A friend just sent me this video. It was not new information for me but I found it to be a very powerful video and decided to pass it on.
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.
Kerala Flood Update
A few days ago, I saw a newspaper lying on a table. When I glanced at it, the article that caught my eye was announcing that the Chief Minister of Kerala (the chief executive of the state) requested that all Keralites living in or out of the state, donate a month’s salary to the relief effort. It was suggested that they donate three days a week of their salary at first and then pay the rest over a 10-month period.
What a difference it would make in the recovery effort if people did this. I wonder how many Keralites will be this generous or have enough income to be able to participate. I would guess that he will have more response than if the same request was made, after a tragedy, by any U.S. president or governor.
In researching this event today, I read this statement by the Chief Minister:
As you are aware, this is the worst calamity in the history of Kerala. This calamity has affected the entire stretch of Kerala and 12 out of 14 districts severely. The devastation and destruction are extremely severe and beyond a description. The loss of life, livelihood, homes, roads, bridges, agriculture, power lines and public infrastructure will have far-reaching impact on socioeconomic fronts. Though it was unprecedented, the government swung into action immediately and concentrated fully on rescue and relief. I need to underline the fact that all sections of the people held their hands together along with government agencies to conduct rescue and relief operations. The selfless efforts of the fisherfolks have to be specially underlined. Read more
I also learned that on August 26, the death toll was 302 with more bodies being discovered. There were 1435 relief camps still in operation and the population in those camps was 462,000.
I then looked for an update on Amma’s relief work. I found this statement on amritapuri.org.
As the flood waters recede, and as the spotlight wanes, Amma and MAM remain fully committed to helping the survivors with their recovery for as long as it takes. Next steps for the Math include focusing on disease prevention, ongoing treatment of injury and disease, and finding ways to re-house those who have lost everything. Read more
To read Amma’s Kerala flood rescue and relief day-to-day updates – click here
This year, Onam occurred on Saturday, August 26. Onam is a family holiday in Kerala, one that celebrates the agricultural harvest. Amma decided that the ashram event would not be celebratory in nature because of the devastation caused by the floods. The tug of wars and cultural entertainment that would normally be part of the festivities were pulled from the program.
Huge crowds usually come to the ashram for Onam. I wondered how many people would be able to attend this year. Even though there weren’t as many people as normal, it was still big. The program began with Amma’s satsang (spiritual talk). She spoke in Malayalam, but the English translation was put up on screens. I find I am much more attentive when the translation is done this way. There were so many parts of Amma’s talk that spoke to me. I haven’t found the text of the full satsang anywhere, but you can read some of it here.
(The photo below shows only half of the auditorium.)
After the satsang, Amma sang three songs and then gave darshan (hugs) for a short period of time. When darshan was over, it was time for lunch. Amma handed a plate to every person in the auditorium.
The Onam lunch was quite a feast. There were so many types of food on each plat. A lot of tables had been set up and brahmachinis and other helpers walked around aiding devotees in finding a place to sit, handing out hot water to drink and a buttermilk sauce to put on the rice, and cleaning up the tables in-between diners. The meal really felt like a family event to me. I realized, once again, that I have a VERY large family.
(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the pictures.)
After the lunch, Amma fed Lakshmi, the ashram elephant, her lunch. This is always one of my favorite parts of Onam. After Lakshmi finished eating, Amma had her pick up, with her trunk, any food that had dropped on the floor. It always amazes me to see how well Lakshmi can clean up her mess.
Once the floor was clean, a bucket of water was brought to her. Lakshmi drunk quite a bit of it and then pulled up more water into her trunk. Next, she sprayed the water all over the children who were standing or sitting close to her. There were screams of delight and laughter from all over the auditorium, especially from everyone who was sprayed. That process occurred over and over. I think they even brought Lakshmi a second bucket of water.
When the water in the buckets was gone, the lunch program was over. Lakshmi was taken away and the devotees dispersed.
Amma came back to the hall at 6:30 p.m. for the evening bhajan (devotional singing) program. The songs were beautiful, as always.
Since there would be no entertainment that night, I expected bhajans to be the end of the Onam program. That was not Amma’s plan, however. Instead of going back to her room when she finished singing, Amma announced that she would be continuing to give darshan.
Amma gives and gives and then gives some more. I don’t know when she stopped for the night, but I know I went to bed before she did.
Continuing to Explore
In my last post, I talked about making the decision to sit closer to the front of the room during programs instead sitting at the back or far sides of the hall. I have followed through on that commitment. Most often, I have been sitting on the floor in the section closest to Amma. I had forgotten what it is like to be surrounded by devotees who know the songs. The sound is so full and powerful.
I am still finding my limits though. I can sit cross-legged for an hour or even an hour-and-a-half. However, when I tried sitting in that way through Amma’s meditation and question and answer session, followed by the bhajan program, on Monday night, I found that my legs hurt a lot. Three-and-a-half hours was too much for me, even though there was a short break in the middle.
That night, Amma sang a lot of old bhajans, including one I hadn’t heard in many, many years. It was Shyam Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam… Aarati Kunjavihari Ki Sri Giridhara Krishna Murari Ki. I was in heaven.
Sreejit cooks for the Western Canteen. One day last week was salad day. He made potato salad (potatoes, pickles) , 3 bean salad (pinto beans, chickpeas and green beans), and beet salad. Someone took a picture of him surrounded by the ingredients. I think it gives a good sense of the amount of food Sreejit prepares for lunch, six days a week, and for every dinner. Needless to say, I am very proud of him.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
Any of you who have read my blog for a while will know that I love Nimo Patel’s music. This morning, I was notified that he had just released a new music video.
With so much that is negative and demoralizing going on in my country, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of hope. Watching and listening to Nimo’s new video was what I needed in this moment. I’m crying … and feeling gratitude… from the depth of my heart.
To learn more about Nimo Patel click here.
To watch Nimo’s other music videos click here.
To download the Empty Hands Music album for free click here.
My son Sreejit has published a new book of his poems. This one is called: Out of the Fog: 30 poetic musings on the world to which I cling. As always, Sreejit’s perspectives on life and living are thought provoking and well worth reading. Sreejit describes his newest publication in this way:
Perspective shapes our truth, our vision, and the way we move throughout this world. Our beliefs are filtered through the experiences that we’ve had and the weight that we allow these experiences to carry in the shaping of our truth. The world becomes illusion when we realize that every creature sees and understands it from different vantage points. Our world is all about perspective. The one written about here is mine.
He has also republished two of his intriguing and captivating novels.
A modern tale, an ancient mysticism, a universal love. Overcome by the weight of his failure to live up to the world’s standards of success, Ballard Davies decides that there is only one solution. He gets in his car and drives. He drives away from everything and everyone that he knows, in an effort to just start over. He doesn’t care where he’s headed; he just wants another chance to get it right. What he finds is beyond his imagination, as he befriends an eccentric cast of characters. From the divinely inspired to the rationalistic blowhards, everyone becomes a part of his journey to begin again. But there is still one problem – he cannot escape himself. What will it take for Ballard to overcome his own self-imposed limitations and live the adventure he feels he deserves? This is the journey he now travels, down a path where truth, love, desperation, honor, the forgiving and the righteous, the mystics and the scientists all battle for the chance to be given the foremost spot in the realm of his mind. Will the pain of loneliness and separation prevail, or will Ballard find something to live for?
Traversing a world based on perspective, with the force of our own illusions propping us up, what would you forsake to know the truth? Two families, separated by continents, are wrapped up in the same timeless struggle – to be more than the sum of their parts. Join them as they seek to solve a mystery that goes beyond the limits of our physical reality. With time never on our side, the question arises: what would you give up for freedom?
You can order these three publications and more on his Amazon.com author’s page.
Surprise! I’m able to write the third post about the Amritapuri Christmas play after all. Enjoy!
As I’ve mentioned before, this year’s Christmas musical was about the nativity story as told by a 9 year old child named Grace. Grace was living in a school for girls. She is the second child from the left in the first photo below. She is wearing a blue dress.
In many Indian plays, the actors don’t speak or sing, they lip sync. The musicians and people singing or speaking for the actors are out of sight. In this play, they were sitting on the left side of the stage.
The children were amazing. They had practiced their roles so thoroughly that you couldn’t tell they weren’t saying anything.
In Grace’s version of the nativity story, one of the wise men came from Africa. She named him Tsabo Babatunde. Tsabo was very, very old. When he received God’s direction to follow the star to Bethlehem, so that he could welcome another great soul to the world, he obeyed.
Tsabo was able to talk to animals, and they talked to him. One of the songs in the musical was Come Awake Africa.
[Note: You can enlarge the photos in this post by clicking on the photo galleries. To hear the songs, click on the audiofiles.]
Joseph and Mary sang and danced with their friends before they traveled to Bethlehem.
One of the most intense scenes of the play occurred when it was time for Mary to give birth and no one would give them the couple a place to stay. I think you will get a sense of the intensity by listening to the song. I still get goose bumps when I hear it.
An angel was present during the nativity scene. As you look at the photos and listen to the music know that she was 30-40 feet above the floor!
One of the most touching scenes was near the end when Mary let Grace hold baby Jesus.
Throughout his journey, Tsabo had visions of what the adult Jesus would do in his life. Those visions were enacted. The photo below is from one of the last scenes in the play when Jesus was talking about love.
It was a wonderful musical. I hope you were able to get a sense of that from the photos and songs in this post.
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
Last night, Sreejit posted the summary of his Rage Against the Machine event. He did it in a new way in that for each post he included a quote and one of the comments that a reader made. I think that is a valuable way to help new readers choose which posts to look at, so I’m passing his summary on to those of you who read my blog.
We made it. 30 guest posts in 30 days.
As you may have noticed, the Rage Against the Machine series was not so much about rage as it was about figuring out how we can be productive global citizens, and what we can do as individuals and collectively to make this world a better place.
Everyone brought different perspectives – including the ever present To Rage or Not to Rage question – and different issues to the series. One of the most pleasant surprises was that not only were the guest posts exceptional, of which I’m grateful, but we had a lot of interesting discussions in the comment section.
So, to recap the articles that you might have missed, or to remind you and encourage a second look, I will share both a snippet from each article and also one comment from the discussion, to give you a taste of…
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At 5:00 a.m. this morning, the last entry in The Seeker’s Dungeon Rage Against the Machine Month was posted. The posts by 30 guest contributors were all so different from one another and each person had important things to say. I looked forward to reading a new post each morning and am sorry the event is over.
Some of the event instructions were:
Your post doesn’t have to be about the United States or even politics, but should be about what is keeping our world in darkness and your own solutions for shedding light. Talk about where your own passions lie, your own causes, and the glass ceilings you are trying to break on through.
I’ve listed all of the posts below so that you can read some or all of them. I suspect you will find them as thought provoking as I did.
The Rage Against the Machine Contributors:
Day 11: Earth Grief by Sherry Marr
Day 12: Searching by Oliana Kim
Day 14: The Hip Woman by Ana Daksina
Day 15: On Being a Lady by Kripa Gressel
Day 17: I don’t understand… by Amy
Day 20: #BeKindToElephants by Monika
Day 21: Finding A Way by Bertie Hutchins
Day 22: Fated by Rebel Willing
Day 26: Coming Out by Elmari W.
Day 27: What Sort of Men by Gary Maxwell
Day 27: Just One Word by Sonya Kassam
Day 29: Rectitude by Tobe
During the month of November, The Seeker’s Dungeon is publishing posts by guest authors on the topic of Rage Against the Machine. The articles have been so interesting and varied. Today’s contribution is titled Earth Grief. I resonate with everything she said and was struck by how articulately, passionately and from her heart she said it.
I hope you will take a minute and read Rage Against the Machine Day 11: Earth Grief by Sherry Marr.
While you are there consider taking a look at some of the other posts. I have appreciated every one of them.
My contribution to Sreejit’s new event was posted today. I called it Creating Light in the Darkness. You can find it at:
I thought the first two articles in his series were excellent.
I hope you will go to The Seeker’s Dungeon and read my post… and consider reading all three of them… and maybe even those that he posts throughout the month of November!
Some of you may want to write and submit a post of your own. You are welcome to do that. Here is part of the event description:
Your post doesn’t have to be about the United States or even politics, but should be about what is keeping our world in darkness and your own solutions for shedding light. Talk about where your own passions lie, your own causes, and the glass ceilings you are trying to break on through. Your essay should be between 800 and 5000 words.
You can learn more about the event Here.