Singing to the tala of the sea

Amma singing a bhajan

14 February  — Dhareshwar Beach, 80 km south of Karwar, Karnataka –Bharata Yatra 2006

Dhareshwar Beach near Karwar, Karnataka

From Mangalore to Karwar, it’s a straight shot. Both towns are on the Arabian Sea. Just get on NH 17 and head north. At a distance of 270 kilometres, with a decent road, it’s one of the shortest trips of the tour—six hours of driving, maximum. Darshan in Mangalore had gone till noon and afterwards Amma hadn’t taken any rest. So no one expected her to stop along the way. But an hour and a half south of Karwar, the caravan of nine buses suddenly pulled over to the side of the highway.

Everyone got down. The moon had yet to rise, and as such it was very dark. There was a small amount of confusion, but word spread soon enough: Walk down that tiny village road to the west. Amma is there waiting.

The walk was quite long—more than a kilometre—and the ambiguity of the destination made it seem even longer. If those accompanying Amma found it mysterious, imagine the perspective of the people who lived there: 8:30 at night and, out of nowhere, 400 people—all dressed in white, half of whom are foreigners—begin some sort of procession past your front yard.

Amma singing a bhajan

They headed straight west, passing farmers’ fields and huts, the occasional chai stand or man leading a cow.

Then with the sound of waves breaking on the shore, the mystery unravelled: Ah, yes, the ocean! We are right on the coast!

And soon enough, everyone could see Amma. She was sitting there on the beach facing the sea, a small portable light illumining her form and that of the handful of brahmacharis seated around her. Soon a circle formed around Amma, everyone sitting down in the soft, cool sand.

When all her children were assembled, Amma picked up a tambourine and began singing out to the sea: Amma baramma namma taye baram ma…(Mother, please come. Oh, our Mother, please come.)

Having completed seven days of programmes in four cities in the first 10 days of the tour alone, everyone was content to just sit and stare at Amma as she sang.

Amma with the tour group

Slowly the moon, round and full, began rising through the trees in the east. Any tension accrued from the road slowly drained out of everyone into the sand as they breathed in the cool salty air.

Suddenly a man from Germany sitting a few feet from Amma’s right jumped up in panic. Everyone quickly turned to see what was the matter. But the laughter was only a second away: “Oh, Amma, it was only a crab!”

“Don’t catch it,” Amma said in English. “Just let him be.”

Then Amma began singing Kannada versions of “Karunamayi Devi,” “Amme Nin Rupam” and “Ishwar Tum Hi Daya Karo,” and a few other new bhajans as well. Song after song, Amma sang out towards the sea, accompanied by the tāla of the waves breaking on the shore. Everyone sat still, simply rapt in the sounds and the sights of the night.

— Kannadi