Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 27, 2019 – January 4, 2020

Sunrise and Sunset Photos

The sunrises and sunsets in Amritapuri are spectacular. I’ve been frustrated, both here and in Seattle, that my sunrise and sunset photos never come close to the view I see with my eyes. One day on this visit, I did an internet search to see if I could find tips for improving those photos.

One of the tips I read was to turn on the HDR setting. I took the photos below soon after I did that. The HDR photo looks crisper and I like it better. I look forward to experimenting with HDR and trying some of the other sunrise and sunset photo tips after I return to Seattle.

Normal

HDR

Amma’s Paripally Orphanage

Generally, during December, groups of children from Amma’s orphanage in Paripally come to Amritapuri to receive Amma’s darshan (blessing in the form of a hug). This year, I noticed that there were no such groups and wondered why. I got my answer Christmas week when it was announced that Amma was going to the orphanage to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Everyone was invited to attend. I heard there would be cultural performances followed by Amma giving darshan to each of the children.

I decided not to go, but I did reflect on the past. My first trip to Amritapuri was in January 1990, a few months after Amma had taken on responsibility for the orphanage. I have been there several times. The visit that I remember best was when Amma stopped at the orphanage after she held programs in Trivandrum. Those of us who had attended the Trivandrum programs went with her.

Oh how it has changed over the years. The children who lived at the orphanage when Amma had taken responsibility for it were starving. Under Amma’s care, the orphanage and the generations of children who have lived there have thrived.

I had assumed that several busloads of ashramites and visitors had gone to the orphanage celebration, but during bhajans at the ashram that night it became obvious that most of the ashram had gone. There was no sound system in the auditorium and none of the normal bhajan leaders were present. The number of people in the normally packed auditorium was tremendously reduced.

I had expected the orphanage visit to be a half a day experience but it turned out to be an all day one. The buses started returning to Amritapuri twelve hours after they had departed that morning.

I learned later that many previous alumni and teachers attended the event, in addition to the current orphanage residents. They had also received Amma’s darshan that day. To read more about the festivities… and to see photos… go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/76883/19parippally.aum.

New Year’s Eve

Some visitors left the ashram after Christmas, but many more arrived. In fact, I think the New Year crowds were bigger than at any other time during my visit.

New Year’s Eve was similar to Christmas Eve in that after dinner Amma came back to the auditorium. There were performances, Amma’s New Year’s talk, singing and other activities. One of those activities was a chant for peace in the world.

Like Christmas Eve, I knew it would be unhealthy for me to stay up late and I had a 7:30 a.m. cafe shift, so I watched three or four of the performances and went to bed. Unlike Christmas Eve, I went to sleep immediately and slept through the night.

Again, I feel sad about all that I missed, but know I made the right decision. I also believed I had Amma’s support in that decision because there were several times on the U.S. tour last summer, after I talked to her about my balance problems, that during late night programs she told me to go to bed!

To read about and see photos from the New Year’s Eve programs, go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/77089/20newyear.aum

Prasad Assist Seva

Amma continued changing the directions for the prasad-givers every time I did the assistant job. I got a bit cocky about being able to go with the flow. That cockiness ended the day that darshan was held in the temple.

I wasn’t worried about the change since I had done another prasad assist job in the past and I knew the system that had been used when darshan was held in that location. As strange as it may seem, I didn’t consider the possibility that anything could have changed.

I panicked when I came to my shift only to discover that the chairs had been removed from the area and everyone, except for a few people in the darshan line, was sitting on the floor. I didn’t know how I would get down and I was even more concerned about how I was going to get up. That would not have been a problem in the past but that day it seemed like a BIG PROBLEM!

I also discovered that there were other changes. There was no longer a small line of people waiting on the balcony to give prasad and I didn’t know where the other prasad assistant was. There was no way I could be repeatedly getting up and down as the job often requires. I was near tears and felt desperate.

I was able to get down and had no trouble sitting on the floor throughout the shift. I talked to my supervisor about not being able to get up and down and she let the other prasad assistant know that I would not be available in that way. When it was time, two people helped me get up. Even though I had been shaken, I had survived the challenge and done well.

Shoes/Thongs

In India, people take off their shoes/thongs when they enter a temple or a house. In Amritapuri, we wear shoes/thongs in the auditorium now but still take them off when we are in the temple and when we go up on the auditorium stage for darshan. As a result, there is always a hodgepodge of thongs going every direction not far from those areas.

One day during this time period, I watched as one of the darshan line monitors meticulously picked up pairs of thongs with her toes and one after another placed them in straight lines. It was like a work of art. No one took the hint though. People kept taking them off and leaving them wherever they fell. The line monitor soon gave up.

This scene reminded me of a time when Swami Paramatmanda, one of Amma’s senior Swamis, remarked that how we place our footwear when we take them off, is representative of the state of our minds. That felt true to me then and it still does, or at least it is representative of MY “monkey” mind. I usually take off my shoes in the entry way when I enter my house, but there are times when I take them off in the hallway, or the kitchen, or the bathroom, and occasionally even in the living or dining room. And I certainly don’t take care to see that they are placed side-by-side neatly.

Monkeys

On Tuesday, December 31, there were FOUR monkeys in the café courtyard, two big ones high up in a tree, the small one that I’ve seen many times during this visit and one that is considerably smaller than the one I consider small. They apparently had been chased away from the back of the café earlier because they were stealing food.

One monkey had been hard enough to deal with but now there appeared to be a whole family. I watched as the small one started opening trash can lids and attempted to turn over the bins. Luckily, the trash cans the monkey looked into didn’t have food in them and it was unsuccessful in turning any of them over. I can imagine the mess it would have made if it had found the trash cans that held the food waste. (In Amritapuri the recycling stations have separate bins for hard items, soft plastic, paper, food waste, etc.)

Weather

Two years ago, it was hotter than normal when I came to Amritapuri in December. Last year it was back to “normal.” I got fooled into thinking the weather might not be shifting. But this year it’s been even hotter than it was two years ago. As I write this, it is 90 degrees and very humid. I’m sweating even though I am in my room with a large fan nearby.

I am so ready to be back in Pacific Northwest weather which this week is in the upper to mid 40’s for a high and high 30’s to low 40’s for a low. Hummmmm. I see the forecast for the Sunday after I get back is for snow. Oh, well that could change by then, or it could just be a little bit of snow that goes away fast.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Titan Arum Flower

When I posted today about the Rafflesia flower, MZ & Cho from Chateaux Des Fleurs commented that the flower reminded them of the Titan Arum flower. I looked it up and found that even though the flowers look very different from each other they definitely have things in common, e.g. they come from Indonesia, they are very big and they have an unpleasant odor.

Again, I found some Titan Arum royalty free images on Getty Images. The photo below is from that site. Click on the Getty Images link to see a lot more photos, some free, some not.

Getty Images caption: This very large flower bloomed in January 2018 in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. However the flower is not indigenous to Australia, actually being native to Sumatra island in Indonesia. The bloom attracts people not only because of its large size but also because it really stinks. The unpleasant odor resembles a rotting flesh and is known as the corpse flower. Its scientific name is Amorphophallus titanum, also known as titan arum. The flower stalk can reach over 3 metres in height. These days the plant is seen around the world, particularly in public gardens in tropical cities.

I also found many Titan Arum photos on Wikimedia Commons. The next three photos are from there but if you click on the link you will find many more.

I think it is very interesting that like the Rafflesia plant, the Titan Alum plant is called a corpse plant, because of its rotting flesh odor.

I have enjoyed learning about these two plants today.

Mother Nature Provides… Again

On January 22, 2019, I found a shovel on our Greenbelt restoration site. It was standing up against the remnants of a house foundation that is on the site. I was very surprised because I had been standing in that spot the day before, and it wasn’t there then. I put it away. The following day, I found a shrub sitting on the ledge next to the place where I had found the shovel.

There was blue and white checkered flagging tape on the plant, which indicated that it had been planted somewhere in Autumn of 2018. I couldn’t find any hole on the site so I had no idea where the shrub had come from.

Since I couldn’t think of any reasonable explanation for these events, I concluded, tentatively, that I was “supposed” to plant the shrub in the foundation. In January 2019, I wrote about that mystery- A Mystery in the Greenbelt. Towards the end of March, I wrote a followup article- Mystery Followup. Both articles contain numerous photos.

Before I go on, let me give some more backstory. The house foundation was discovered in April 2017 when Seattle Parks Department staff cut down the blackberry vines on the site. Because of items we found within the foundation and the presence of charred material in the area, we believed the house had burned down in the 1950’s.

We decided to use the foundation to store the racks we build to facilitate drying out blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines and other invasive weeds we dig out on the site. Putting these invasive plants on racks prevents them from re-rooting.

Early in January, 2019, we started disassembling the racks and spread the dried debris throughout the foundation. We also spread the dried debris from other racks on the site in the foundation. We planned, in time, to use that space as another planting area.

At that time, I had planned to plant in the foundation after the dried debris had composted and turned into dirt. When the mystery plant showed up, however, I let go of that plan; I would plant the shrub in the foundation.

Planting in dried debris is not the same as planting in dirt. There was some material towards the bottom of the debris that was pretty well composted but almost everything above it consisted of dried canes and branches. I decided to dig a hole in the debris and then place some dirt in the bottom of the hole, put the plant on top of it and then spread as much dirt as I could around it.

As I was deciding what to use for dirt, my eye fell on a single mole hill that was near the foundation. I noticed that dirt was very light and airy. I thought it would be perfect! By the beginning of August, the shrub, which turned out to be oceanspray, had grown significantly. My planting strategy had obviously worked.

Fast forward to mid-November 2019. We had some extra Roemer’s fescue and tall managrass plants after our November 2019 planting day. I thought it would be interesting to use the plants to experiment with planting in the foundation area again. Shirley (Sarva) and I decided we would have the UW service-learning students plant the fescue and managrass along the inner southern and western borders of the foundation.

The day before the students came, I saw the scene in the photo below in front of the foundation. At the time, I had been wondering what dirt we would use for the planting.

We rarely see mole hills on the property and to see four big ones (there were four even though the photo only shows three) directly in front of the foundation seemed like no accident. I realized that, once again, Mother Nature had provided the dirt we needed for the experiment. And again, the soil was so light and airy; perfect for planting the new plants.

On November 19th, the students planted 9 fescue and managrass plants.

It will be interesting to see how they grow in this location. I imagine I will be writing updates in the future!