Onam celebration in the pool


12 September 2005 – Amritapuri

children swimming

“What were your Onam of old like?” {read} This is what the reporter had asked Amma. And the picture Amma painted in response was of a world wet with life–one where boys and girls lept into the backwaters and splashed about, making as much noise as they wanted, singing together, dancing together, running, laughing, knocking down fruit from the mango trees.

But when Amma told it, it was like speaking about a thing disappeared–or, at least, a thing disappearing.

Then… SPLASH! Four days later, Amma called all the children visiting from the Ashram’s orphanage to come to the swimming pool. And, suddenly, it was as if the Onams of Amma’s memories were reborn.

The children were in heaven; it was obvious. Amma sat at the edge of the water, watching them, as they hopped in and out of the pool–diving, jumping, leaping, splashing… The boys created a lovely chaos. “They are like penguins!” someone said. “There’s so many of them, jumping in and out of the water!” But he was quickly corrected, “No. penguins have order!” Amma made sure the ones who couldn’t really swim stayed in the shallow end, cordoning off the deep part of the pool with a rope. But mainly the girls stayed there. And soon–waist-deep in water–they formed a circle and began to dance and sing.

children swimming

Many of the children who stay at Amrita Niketan, the Ashram’s orphanage–which is located in Parippally, Kollam District, Kerala–are vanavasis[tribals] from Wayanad, a district some 500 kilometers to the north. And each year when they come to Amritapuri for the Onam holidays, they leap at any opportunity they get to perform their tribal dances for Amma.

Watching the girls as they moved slowly clockwise in their circle–hands coming together up high for a clap, then coming in close to touch their hearts–it was obvious that they had found that place of pure existence, wherein nothing is but the now, so lost they were in the joy of their game.

It’s true that these children have Amma. It’s true they have shelter and education and good food, and caretakers and fellow orphans that truly love them. But many of them still have the memories of brutal pasts lurking within them–alcoholic parents, lives of servitude, lack of food, unspeakable abuse… But at least for the 20 minutes of that dance, there in the pool, by Amma’s feet, none of that remained.