Bharata Yatra 2006 begins….

3 February 2006 — Amritapuri

The packing began in earnest only the day before departure–and most of that was done at night. Nine buses named after the Divine Mother–Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, Sree, Mata, Amba, Amrita, Vani and Devi–all had to be loaded. The full night, brahmacharis and devotees climbed up and down the bus ladders, piling up boxes and bags and pots and pans. So much had to be done before the 4:30 a.m. departure.

One bus was for the kitchen–its top covered with stacks of giant cooking pots and burners, wooden stirring spoons the size of boat paddles, coconut scrapers, chai kettles, stoves, frying pans and hundreds of metal plates… Then buses for the stalls–box after box of Amma’s books, bhajan cassettes and CDs, ashram-made incense sticks and ayurvedic medicines, photographs and maalas… Plastic chairs–stacked one inside the other–filled the top of a couple more buses… Three or four bus-tops alone were needed for all the suitcases, bags and sleeping mats… Another bus was filled with all the loudspeakers, monitors, soundboards, cables and microphones… Then, in addition, there was a lorry, three or four small vehicles and, of course, a white camper for Amma. Indeed, watching the packing it seemed as if the whole ashram were being put on wheels.

In total some 450 people are accompanying Amma on this, her 19th Bharata Yatra. That includes sannyasins, brahmacharis, brahmacharinis, householder ashramites, as well as devotees from Europe, Canada, the U.S., Australia, Japan, Israel, South America… For some, its their first tour, for others their 19th.

For those travelling with Amma, Bharata Yatra is a tremendous opportunity to purify one’s mind, a chance to test one’s self and see how well one can put into practice Amma’s teachings in the face of extreme circumstances. Amma says one of the few ways one can judge one’s spiritual progress is by seeing their ability to maintain equanimity of mind in all situations. We are not the body nor the mind, but the divine consciousness that pervades all creation… Everyone is a manifestation of God and should be honoured and served as such… It’s one thing to put such philosophy into practice within the safety of the orderly ashram routine, another while working in the bookstall with no sleep through a cold Pune night or in the kitchen during a boiling Rajasthan afternoon–not to mention while forbearing the discomforts of a 20-hour bus ride along a Bihar “highway.” Indeed, Bharata Yatra is a time for Amma’s children to put Vedanta into action. Tyaga–renunciation of one’s physical comfort for the benefit of others–lies at the heart of the tour.

During the next two months, Amma will be covering the length and breadth of Bharat–“the land of those who revel in light.” Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Delhi, West Bengal–all will be blessed with Amma’s darshan over the next two months.

Bharat’s culture is one, Sanatana Dharma–the dharma that is ever directing man back to the truth that his real nature is the one blissful consciousness that is reflecting so wondrously in this world of diverse names and forms. But as diverse as the reflections, so too their customs. And this is one of the things that lends beauty to Amma’s Bharata Yatra. It’s as if each year the children of Bharat collectively offer Amma a garland, each one contributing the precious flower that can only be grown in their particular soil.

In Kolkata they feel Amma to be Kali; in Karnataka, she is Durga; in Gujarat she is Sri Krishna; and in Uttar Pradesh she is a jnani . And in each place, they greet her in their own special way–placing a red silk chunri around her shoulders in Rajasthan or dressing her as Krishna in Pune. But whether they call her “Amma” or “Mataji,” offer her curds or coconut, they all feel themselves to be her child.

And there truly is no more beautiful way to experience India than travelling across her plains as part of Amma’s caravan. Stopping in fields and riversides for lunch and satsang… Listening to Amma sing bhajans to the star-filled sky in, say, Tulu, Hindi, Gujarati or Bengali… Hearing Amma’s wisdom–and jokes–as the sun sets in the horizon… Watching Amma give darshan to the tribals, the poor, the crippled, as well as to India’s leaders, scientists and artists and musicians… Watching the tears well up in a handicapped woman’s eyes when Amma gives her a new home or pension… Watching the excitement on people’s faces when Amma arrives and seeing the longing in their hearts when she inevitably has to go.

These are what make Amma’s Bharata Yatra so special. Spiritual life is often compared to a journey, a journey to one’s True Self. Bharata Yatra verily is an outward manifestation of that journey, with new splendours and surprises around every corner.