8 – 10 January, Kozhikode, Kerala — Bharata Yatra 2006
They begin queuing up the day before Amma is to give darshan, and they spend the whole night there, entire families sleeping on the hard ground under the open sky. Most of them have been waiting all year for these three days—Amma’s annual visit to Kozhikode. Though the majority of them cannot afford to take time off from work to travel down to Amritapuri, their every day is lived in remembrance of Amma. For them, she is everything—their mother, their guru, their god, their very life.
Amma has been coming to Kozhikode (or Calicut, as it is also called) since 1985. And over the last 21 years she has forged an unbreakable bond with the people here.
Watching Amma give darshan, one may wonder as to how it has been possible for such a bond to have formed, as a typical pace of darshan in Kozhikode is one devotee per every two seconds—30 per minute, 1,800 people per hour. Brahmachari Vivekamrita Chaitanya, who has been in charge of Amma’s ashram in Kozhikode since 1995, feels he knows the reason: “In true bhakti [devotion], one goes beyond the limitations of time and space.”
“The bhakti of the devotees in Kozhikode is special because it manifests in their actions,” he says. “Take the example of the pandal [the temporary roofing that covers areas of the ashram to protect people from sun and rain during Amma’s programme]. The devotees have been coming here for the past one month and working on it themselves, weaving together the coconut-tree fronds by hand. They come whenever they have spare time. And whatever spare money they have they are contributing to Amma’s charities; whatever they can give, they are giving. Some devotees don’t even have enough money to even readily come to the [Kozhikode] ashram, but still they somehow find a way to get here in order to participate in the seva activities. There are even cases where, out of their love for Amma and their desire to somehow help her with her charitable projects, they have sold off the wife’s tãli [gold wedding necklace] and given the money to Amma.”
Amma herself has recently spoken about the bhakti of the Kozhikode devotees. After the tsunami of December 2004, when a reporter asked Amma how she was going to raise the billion rupees she had pledged to dedicate to tsunami relief, Amma spoke about the hard work of her devotees and how even the poor do what they can to support her efforts. She then specifically mentioned some devotees that work in a Kozhikode granite quarry and how upon receiving their weekly wages they dash off to make it to the post-office before it closes. Amma told the reporter that, when their boss asked them why they were in such a rush, they responded, “We want to post a percentage of our wages to Amma.”
When many see Amma giving darshan in Kozhikode, they cannot believe their eyes. It seems like total chaos—devotees being pushed into and pulled out of Amma’s arms at such a rate. Jan Kounen, the director of Darshan: The Embrace, the recently released documentary about Amma, once filmed Amma when she was going at such a speed. He said, “She is going so fast, so at first the eye doesn’t catch it; it just kind of looks disorganized, like a blur. It was too fast. So I decided to shoot her in slow motion. Only then I started to see: ‘No, it’s not like that; there is such grace and beauty there. Everything is so deliberate; it is like a ballet.'”
If one wants proof of Amma’s level of awareness and presence during such fast-paced darshans, one only needs to observe what happens when a devotee sneaks back into the darshan line for a second time. No sooner will that person fall into Amma’s arms, than will Amma grasp him by the shoulders and—in her own motherly way—scold him, saying, “Hey, you thief! You came twice!”
And if you watch the Kozhikode devotees as they exit the darshan queue, you will see the truth in their soft smiles and tear-filled eyes. Indeed, their bhakti—their pure hearts, pure actions and pure faith—has carried them beyond the confines of time and space, allowing them to experience Amma’s love so profoundly despite the shortness of their darshans. In truth, Amma’s grace is ever flowing towards all humanity, but perhaps the Kozhikode devotees have opened themselves up to receiving that grace a little more than the rest of us.