A Visit to the Nature Sanctuary: September 2018

I first visited the Nature Sanctuary, which until this year was called Kuzhitura Farm, in 2014. It is located south of the Amritapuri ashram. That was before I had a blog, so I don’t have photos from that year. The photos below are from my 2015 visit.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

The gardens have changed so much over the years. The volunteers have overcome so many obstacles. Their persistence was well worth it; entering the property yesterday  was like walking into a magical wonderland.

When I turned onto the path that leads to the sanctuary, I noticed that there were plants lining the borders of the path. Many of them were potted roses. I don’t know what the other plants were.

When I reached the entrance, I saw two new signs.

I walked into the lush wonderland.

There were so many beautiful flowers.

Plants grow so fast in the tropics. There were some rudraksha trees in this garden that were planted a year ago. They have grown 4-6 feet since that time. I’ve been excited that some of our Seattle Greenbelt trees grew 6 inches this year.

There are numerous turtles on the property. When I visited these gardens in January of 2018, the volunteers were installing some tubs for baby turtles to live in. The babies would move or be moved to bigger ponds when they got older. This is what the tubs looked like 8 months ago:

I was amazed at how different the tub area looked on this visit. It was so dense with vegetation. I could barely see the blue tubs.

The ponds were not easy to spot either. The photo below shows one of them:

A volunteer asked if I wanted to see some of the turtles that are living in the bigger ponds. Of course, I said yes. Once there, he told me that we could feed them treats; if we called to them, they would come. When he called, a turtle that was about the size of my palm responded right away. It would not take the food from his hand though. He said that the turtle might respond more readily to my voice. He was right. The turtle came to me right away and took the pellet from my hand. Once he ate it, I offered him another one, and he took that one too!

I learned that there are turtle eggs all over the property. When the eggs hatch, the babies find their way to water. So no one carries them to the little tubs, they find them on their own.

Later, I learned that the nature sanctuary does not have any problem with mosquitoes because there are tadpoles that eat the mosquitoes when they are in larva stage.

I saw butterflies that day and in the past and I’ve seen bees and dragonflies in these gardens. If there are tadpoles then there must be frogs! I wonder what other kinds of wildlife are in the sanctuary.

I could have stayed there all day and not have seen everything that there was to see. I look forward to my next visit.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

So Many Memories

Every time I come to Amritapuri, I have so many memories of my first visit. I met Amma in June of 1989. Six weeks later, I was at her New Hampshire retreat and 6 months after that I was at her ashram in India. I don’t remember when the ashram started to be called Amritapuri, but I think it was many years later. At that time, we just referred to it as being near Oachira or Vallikavu.

In those days, the beach road was not paved and was full of potholes. The taxi drivers were not willing to drive on it so they would take us to Vallikavu. From there, we took a canoe to the ashram. This was our first view of the ashram:

I arrived days after the temple was able to be used. The top floors had not been completed yet, and it would be years before the construction was done. I don’t have a photo of the temple from that time but the first photo below was taken within the last decade. The second two are from January 1990. You can click on the photo gallery to enlarge the pictures.

In those days, Amma would hold Devi Bhava programs three days a week. Those would be held in the temple. She gave darshan (hugs) in a small darshan hut.

The evening bhajan program was held in the temple. My memory is that there were so few people that we only filled the front third of the temple. I remember wondering why Amma had built a temple that was so big.

A photo from later in the 90’s shows the answer to that question.

When I came to the ashram in 1990, we never knew if Amma would attend the evening bhajans. My memory is that she would participate at least two times a week, and that when she came the program would last longer.

That first year, Amma sat with us on the floor of the temple, all of us facing the Kali murti. She would lead the singing without a microphone. A year or two later Amma, as well as the swamis and other back up singers, moved to the side of the room. At that point, everyone was still sitting on the floor of the temple. I remember Amma scolding us for facing her instead of the front of the temple.  Amma started using a microphone at that time.

I don’t remember what year Amma and the other singers started singing from elevated area at the front of the hall, near the Kali murti. I also don’t remember when the darshan programs moved to the temple.

During my first visit to the ashram, there were 30 western guests (now during the Christmas season there are close to 2000). The Western Canteen opened at that time. It offered only one meal a day, and that meal, as I remember it, consisted of a bowl of soup. (When I look at the photo below, it looks like the meal was bigger than that.) We were so grateful to have western food once a day.

Four days a week, the Canteen food was served on the fourth floor temple balcony. During the three Devi Bhavas, we gathered on the stairs going up to the sixth floor. Maybe those were the times we only had soup. There wouldn’t have been room on the stairs to serve much more than that.

Amma was 35 years old when I met her, and 36 years old when I visited the ashram for the first time. These are some photos of Amma from the early days.

I have been blessed to be able to consistently spend time with Amma in the United States and India during the last 29 years. I have so many memories of those experiences, and I am exceedingly grateful for that. Millions and millions of thanks to you Amma.

 

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Return to Kuzhitura Farm: January 10, 2018

My friend Ramana had asked if I would take him to some of the ashram gardens when he arrived in Amritapuri. Since he didn’t come to India until the 9th and I was returning to the U.S. at 5 a.m. on the 12th, I decided it was only reasonable for me to take him to one of them. I chose Kuzhitura.

You may remember when I visited this farm on December 27, 2017, I saw some tubs that I thought might be a new way to catch water.

Later, I learned that the structures that were originally built for water catchment had become homes for turtles.  I found a picture of one of those structures that I took in January 2016. I can see why turtles would want to live there!

One of the problems with the turtles living in that “pond” is that the water dries up during the dry season. It is not a safe place for the turtles to live. The new tubs are meant to be homes for the turtles.

When I returned to Kuzhitura on January 10, I enjoyed seeing how much homier the tubs looked than when I had been there two weeks before.

Sarvaga, a friend who works in this farm, introduced Ramana and me to some of the turtles living in the current “pond.” She talks to them as she offers them treats and they come right up to her!

 

 

The staff are not going to move the turtles into their new homes. Sarvaga said they will find their own way there. I look forward to seeing where the turtles are living when I return to Amritapuri later in the year.

 

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

So Much Stillness and Beauty

Gopika and I decided to take a canoe back to the ashram yesterday after visiting Amma’s Vrindavan Field, the Ayurvedic Herbal Garden, and the Ayurvedic College, School of Engineering and School of Biotechnology grounds. I will write about our visit to those places another time but wanted you to see the canoe photos now.

Pushing away from the dock on the town side of the backwaters.

 

Starting to turn towards the Amritapuri ashram. I’m looking to the south.

 

I’m looking to the north.

 

The Beginning: Fall 2017 Trip to Amritapuri, India

I traveled to Amritapuri for five weeks this past August and September so that I could participate in three festivals, Ganesh Chaturi, Krishna Jayanthi and Onam. I hadn’t attended the festivals since 2005 because it didn’t feel right to leave my therapy groups so soon after having missed them for parts of Amma’s Summer North American tour. I had retired the end of May, though, so I now had the freedom to travel at any time of year.

Another major reason I have chosen to go to Amritapuri the end of November each year, instead of August, is because I love to be in Amritapuri prior to and during the annual Christmas play. My daughter Chaitanya writes and co-directs these Broadway style musicals and my son Sreejit and his friends write the tunes for most of the songs and work with the musicians and singers. I love to watch the script come to life and become so much more than words on a page.

While being at the ashram for the play is of major importance to me, I did not consider it an option to come to India twice. The 24-hour trip, along with a 13 1/2 hour time difference, is very hard on my body and the thought of facing jet lag, within months of having recovered from it, was most uninviting. I did not plan to return for the play this year.

I love the joke- Question: “Do you know how to make God laugh?” Answer: “Tell him your plans for your life.” This was certainly one of those experiences. I knew even before I left India in September that I would probably come back in December.

About a week before the end of my last trip, my son and daughter let me know they wanted me to return for the play. I knew that was true and I wanted to be there too, but that wasn’t enough to get me to change my mind. I gave them plenty of rationalizations for my choice.

The next morning, I woke up to find an email from a neighbor in my inbox. She told me that her landlady had informed her that her granddaughter was going to move into the house and that she would need to find another place to live by the beginning of October. Another neighbor had said that I used to have roomers, so she wanted to know if I would consider letting her rent from me.

It has been a long time since I’ve had a roommate, but I have been considering the possibility of doing that for awhile. That fact, combined with the synchronicity of the request, i.e. coming the morning after I’d had the interaction with my children, did not escape me. This development would certainly take care of my money excuse.

During that day, it also occurred to me that the person who normally house-sits for me when I’m in India was going to be in India himself this year, so having her as a roommate would solve that problem. And the third synchronicity was that only days before, I had published a post on this blog saying that I knew I needed to become more inter-dependent and less overly-independent. I decided I was willing to consider the possibility  of having her as a roommate, and I was also willing to consider returning to India for the play.

Skipping forward to December 11, I have had a roommate for almost three months. That was a remarkably easy transition for both of us, and I was on my way back to India, still dreading the flights and the jet lag but looking forward to being with Amma, Sreejit, Chaitanya, my Amritapuri friends, watching the play practices and the performance, and experiencing all that I will experience on this visit.

Night Approaches in Amritapuri

When I stepped off the elevator on my floor tonight, I saw that the sun was starting to set. I decided to photograph the sunset and beyond.

6:24 p.m.
6:25 p.m.
6:26 p.m.
6:27 p.m.
6:34 p.m.
6:37 p.m.
6:38 p.m.
6:43 p.m.
6:47 p.m.

As night approaches, the sound of birds coming home to roost fills the air… and eagles soar overhead.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

Shared with Senior Salon

My Ganesh Chaturthi Experience

I continued attending the Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari from 9-10 each night. All in all, it was nine nights of pure bliss for me as we sang the rocking, high intensity songs. How I have yearned to return to the days when bhajans affected me that way. Two or three of those days, I even sat cross-legged on the floor for the whole time although I asked someone for a hand when I wanted to get up at the end. For one reason or another, I’ve needed to sit in chairs at programs for several years so was excited to see that I could once again be comfortable sitting in the middle of a bhajan group.

Then on Sunday, the big day arrived. It was Ganesh’s birthday, the culmination of the ten day celebration. At 3:30 in the afternoon, devoteese gathered near the Kalari for the procession. We put on orange headbands and placed sandlewood paste and red kum kum on our foreheads, slightly above the junction between our eyebrows. Once we did that, we were instructed to have a seat in the Kalari.

I sat down in a place that was near perfect. (The photo at the top of this post shows the view I had even though the photo was taken on a different day.) I knew I was in an ideal location for the singing that was to come prior to the procession. I was torn though, because I also knew that Lakshmi, the ashram elephant, was in front of the temple and soon I could hear the sound of the horns and drums that have been associated with Hindu festivals since antiquity coming from there as well. I didn’t want to miss anything. Then, to make it even harder to stay put, the sound of big drums being played began. I stayed where I was, choosing to have a slightly delayed gratification.

Before long, I could tell that the drums were coming our way. They got louder and louder. I was so excited. Simultaneously, the bhajans began. By now, most of the songs were familiar to me. I was in bliss. I don’t remember how many we sang but before long it was time to begin the procession.

The big and heavy statue was moved to a decorated cart. That was quite a feat. As soon as it was ready, two men got onto the cart behind it and some others began to pull the cart. The procession had begun.

After leaving the Kalari, we walked to the courtyard in front of the temple where Lakshmi and the two devotees who were riding her were waiting.

Lakshmi and musicians with ceremonial instruments lead the procession.

We wound our way towards the auditorium, where Amma was giving darshan, singing the whole time.

When I started the procession, I was walking with a friend who prefers to be on the outskirts of crowds. I soon realized that this experience was one of the main reasons I had come to Amritapuri this time, so I darted into the crowd and made my way to the front where I could be in the thick of things. As I reflect on it now, I find that interesting. I always want to be on an aisle seat on a plane or in a theater, because I don’t like getting hemmed in. But this was different. I wanted to experience every drop of what it was possible for me to experience.

Soon, Ganesh was in front of Amma.

After leaving the auditorium, we headed towards the beach. Normally that would be a five to ten minute walk but we walked slowly. People lined both sides of the streets and pathways, watching as we walked by. Every so often the procession would stop and the singing and dancing would intensify.

When we made it to the beach, Lakshmi and the musicians waited on the beach…

… while a smaller group of devotees took the Ganesh statue out onto a rock jetty. There he was dropped into the ocean so the clay he was made from could dissolve and his essence return to Mt. Kailash, his heavenly abode.

The crowd spread along the coast line to see the immersion as best they could. After Ganesh had been taken by the ocean waves, everyone dispersed and made their way back to the ashram. I felt happy and full.

 

Most of the photos in this post came from the Amritapuri Facebook page. Many photos were taken that day so I suspect there will be more available on amritapuri.org in the next few days. If that happens, I will provide links to them in future posts on my blog.

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Amritapuri Sunrise

This morning I decided it was high time for me to watch the sunrise. And what an experience it was.

6:02
6:06
6:10
6:17
6:20
6:22
6:24
6:27
6:32
6:37
6:53
6:53

I can’t believe that it took me three weeks to open the curtains of my room first thing in the morning so that I could see the beauty of the sunrise. What a metaphor that is for life. We miss so much because of the blinders we wear.

Quite a few of the photos I took towards the end of this series had a blue orb in it. I’m thinking the camera may have been reacting to the blinding light of the sun, although that is only a guess.

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

Amritapuri Sunsets

My friend Prarthana sent me stunning photos of the sunsets she took here the last two nights. I asked for, and received, permission to share them with you. Enjoy!

August 30

August 31

When I got off the elevator on my floor tonight, I was blessed with the sight of a gorgeous sunset. I took a photo so I could add it to this series. The picture looks essentially the same as what I saw with my eyes. Generally, the colors on my sunrise and sunset photos are muted. I’m so happy with this one.

September 1

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.