Sights, Sounds, Smells of India
• When you arrive in India there is a distinct odor; one that is hard to describe. “Sweet” is the word that comes to my mind. I’ve heard numerous people say when they smell that fragrance, they want to kneel down and kiss the earth. I can relate to that experience. To me it is the smell of “Home.”
• Kerala, the state in southeastern India where Amritapuri is located is very tropical. When I gaze into the distance from one of the ashram roofs, the palm trees go as far north and south as my eye can see.
• From the ashram it is a three minute walk west to the Arabian Sea and a two minute walk east to the backwaters that separate the peninsula where the ashram is located from the mainland. I love to sit and gaze at both bodies of water.
• Every morning, there is tremendous sound from thousands of white and black birds as they fly away from the trees where they have spent the night.
• Every evening, the sound of the birds is even louder as they return to perch in the trees for the night.
• In the early morning, and throughout the day, you will hear music from nearby temples, sometimes coming from many directions at once.
• During the day, the sight and sound of crows are everywhere. Be careful or you will lose your food!
• Beautiful sunrises and sunsets occur at the same time of day throughout the year.
DECEMBER 4, 2014
Amma returned to the ashram
It is always so special to be here when Amma returns from her international programs. Anticipation builds for days. This time there were rumors that she would return around 10:30 a.m. Soon, there was a line of people stretching from the front gate, or beyond, to the house where she lives.
Periodically, people received phone calls saying, “Amma just passed through Parippally,” “Amma just passed through Kollam”, etc. I know that whenever you see a group of brahmacharinis (female monks) running, you know that Amma will be coming very soon. Amma’s arrival was closer to noon than 10:30.
Amma was traveling by camper so we knew she might not be visible, but when the camper arrived, Amma was at the window, greeting everyone as she passed by. Once she passes us, most people scurry to her house to be there when she arrives at her final destination.
I went to the house but was not in a place where I could see much. I could tell she had walked up her stairs and was talking to the crowd that had gathered. I couldn’t see her so I don’t know if she was standing or sitting, but I could hear her joking and laughing with the brahmacharinis. Once Amma goes into her house, she usually comes to the window and talks to us again. I was at least able to see her hands sticking out of the window! Such fun.
You might think that is strange behavior on our part, but I have heard Amma use the metaphor that devotees are attracted her like moths to a flame and that it is normal to want to see and be with her. I believe that is because of the shakti (spiritual energy) that radiates from her. (By the way, I will rarely say “Amma said” because there is too much chance my memory is incorrect, and no way to know if the translator even translated her words correctly. So if I ever do say it, remember it is my memory and may not be the exact words that came out of Amma’s mouth.)
Chaitanya is back too!
My daughter Chaitanya returned to the ashram today as well. I thought her husband, Akshay, would be with her, but he needed to go back to Germany for a few more days so will return to India next week. Both of them were part of the group that went with Amma to the ending modern slavery event. They weren’t present for the religious leaders meeting, but a special conference was created for those individuals who had accompanied the religious leaders, so Chaitanya was able to attend that. I am so grateful she was able to be there; what an important life experience for her. I plan to talk to her more about the conference later.
Each year, there is a Broadway style musical performed at the ashram on Christmas eve. Chaitanya writes and directs those plays. She arrived at the ashram about 1:30 I think and went directly to a play meeting. She was so grateful when she discovered later that I had cleaned her room!
From now until after Christmas, everyone involved in the play will be doing their normal ashram jobs and spending every other minute rehearsing, building sets, sewing costumes, etc. You will certainly be hearing more from me about the play.
I worked with the worms this morning for about an hour, starting at 8:15 a.m. During that time a brahmachari (male monk) came up to me and offered me a spoonful of Bilva jam.
Normally when someone gives you a gift like at the ashram, you hold out your right hand and the food or liquid will dropped into it. My hands were covered with vermicompost at the time so there was no way I could eat it that way. He told me to go ahead and take it directly from the spoon, and he would wash the spoon afterwards. So he essentially fed me! Was such a kind gesture on his part.
I was interested in the things he told me about the fruit so when I returned to my room I looked it up on the internet. The fruit is medicinal and has many uses. The leaves of the Bilva tree are frequently offered to Lord Shiva during worship rituals. The Shiva Purana considers the Bilva tree to be the manifest form of Lord Shiva. To learn more about the fruit click here.
Below are two pictures of my India room. It is small but airy and very comfortable. It always amazes me that in a room this small, I still have trouble finding what I am looking for. I find myself searching for the lock to my door as often as I look for my keys in the U.S.!
There is one main room, with a small bathroom and a kitchen alcove. I use the propane burner you see in the picture occasionally to make tea or hot cereal, but it has a much more important purpose. There is only cold water at the ashram. You have a choice of using an overhead shower or taking bucket baths. My practice is to put about about five inches of cold water in a bucket and then add two cups of boiling water. Having that lukewarm water feels like such a luxury. What a wonderful way to begin each morning!
India is a 13 ½ hour time difference from Seattle so it is turning day and night. I usually do reasonably well the first two or three days by sleeping in the afternoon for three hours and then getting another three or four hours of sleep at night. After those first few days though, I go through a period where I wake up every morning at 2 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. Yesterday, I slept a few hours in the afternoon, but was only able to sleep one hour during the night, so today has been pretty rough. May it be over soon.
Some of the people who are following these posts have been to Amritapuri ashram themselves. I always let them know of changes that have happened since I was here last. I hope they are of interest to the rest of you as well.
I haven’t done much wandering yet but I have noticed:
• The coconut stand now has a structure of its own. It is made of corrugated metal and is next to the juice bar, i.e. in-between the juice bar and the Indian canteen.
• The new flats east of the Amrita Darshan building (used to be called E building) have been finished. They are just north of the bookstore.
• They have turned the house Amma was born and raised in into a meditation hall. It opened on my first day here.
• The small round houses that were built three years ago were originally only for single men. Now single women who are more than 60 years of age can stay there too. Two of the women I traveled with are living in them.
We are not supposed to take photographs at the ashram. Most of the pictures I use for these posts will be taken in the village or will be from the ashram’s webpages, i.e. amritapuri.org, and Amma’s Facebook page, etc.
I have received permission in the past to take pictures of Amma’s GreenFriends projects (food composting, vermicomposting, recycling, tulasi gardens, vegetable gardens) so plan to continue doing that. I will also be using a few pictures I purchased in the early days and were approved for use in some books I wrote that are now out of print, so I plan to use a few of those. I am sharing two pictures of my room and may take a few other pictures, but I will not be taking photos of buildings or ashram activities. If I find myself constrained significantly by this restriction, I may ask Amma for permission to take other pictures, but I don’t think that will be necessary.
DECEMBER 5, 2014 MORNING
I didn’t take a nap yesterday and I slept through the night! I feel so good this morning.
Note 1: I thought of another piece of information for those of you who are seeing my posts via email. Know that if you reply to me from that post, your response will be published automatically on my blog. I appreciate your comments but want to make sure you know that will happen.
Note 2: In previous years, before I had the blog, I wrote emails to individuals and groups and asked that people not forward them without letting me know. Since my blog is now public, it is fine for to give the link to friends you think would be interested in reading them.