Navaratri Altars

Navatratri is a nine day Hindu festival that celebrates three forms of the Goddess, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The tenth day is called Vijaya Dasham, the festival of victory. In 2016 Navaratri was October 1-10.

Friends of mine built a beautiful altar for Navaratri that year. Every item on it had meaning and many of the statues were handmade. I will never forget seeing this altar for the first time; it practically took my breath away. Oh how it sparkled.

You can see pictures of that Navaratri altar at From Darkness to Light.

This year, 2021, Navaratri was October 6-15. One of the friends who built the altar I had seen in 2016, constructed a Navaratri altar at the Woodinville property this year … with the help of two of her friends.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Continue reading “Navaratri Altars”

My Onam Experience

In recent posts, I have shared the pookkallams, artwork made from flower petals, that were constructed in front of Amma’s house each day leading up to Onam. Here are the most recent ones.

This was the pookkallam on Onam morning, September 4.

I hadn’t seen it at the time it occurred, but when I looked for the pookkallam photos on the Amritapuri Facebook page, I  learned that on Sunday a display of organic produce from the ashram gardens (which would be used in cooking the Onam dinner) had been created so that Amma could see the harvest.

Onam is a harvest festival that is similar to our New Year’s Day combined with Thanksgiving Day. This year, it took place on the day after Ganesh’s birthday. I woke up that morning exhausted and grouchy. My high of the day before had crashed.

The Onam crowd was enormous and the auditorium was packed to capacity. Awnings had been set up on three sides of the auditorium so that people who couldn’t get in could stay out of the sun. Seats had been added to those areas and they were all filled with devotees.

When I arrived at the program, a swami was giving a talk in Malayalam. I found a seat and sat for awhile but realized I was too tired to be there. I went back to my room and lay down. I didn’t sleep but it still felt like the right thing to do. I couldn’t even make myself get up when Amma started her talk. Eventually, I decided to go downstairs for the last part of it. Just before I arrived at the auditorium, Amma started to sing a bhajan. Yay!

[I read Amma’s talk later. If you would like to read it too, you can find it here.]

I enjoyed that song, and hoped for more of them, but Amma started a meditation when it was over. I knew that even if I could find a place to sit, I would just nod off so I stayed standing. When the meditation was finished, I noticed people standing up and moving towards the front of the room.

I soon realized Amma was going to sing again and had asked the devotees to dance. That perked me up and I came closer to the front of the auditorium. I perked up even more when I realized she was going to sing Amrita Vahini, one of my favorite bhajans. In fact, that song is one that I can count on to transform my mood.

I still remember a time in the early 2000’s when I walked into the temple on a day that Amma was passing out lunch. I was feeling down and was wondering why I was in India. I wanted to go home. Amma started singing Amrita Vahini while she was serving us lunch. By the time we had finished the song, my bad mood was gone and I was wondering why I wasn’t making plans to live there permanently. I couldn’t even remember why I had been so down the hour before.

The song worked its magic this time too. By the end of it, my exhaustion and negativity were gone.

Next, Amma started giving darshan (i.e. hugs) to part of the crowd. I knew that the darshan segment was going to be quick that day but I was still surprised when I looked up at a nearby screen soon thereafter and saw that she had already started serving lunch. Since on Tuesday’s, Amma now serves lunch to each resident by passing the plates to everyone via a series of human chains, I had assumed that would be the procedure for Onam too. But I was wrong; Amma individually handed a plate of food to everyone in that huge crowd.

I’m hoping I will be able to show you a photo of Amma serving the food in a future post, but here is one of some children enjoying their lunch. The cups have a sweet pudding in them. [In Kerala people usually eat with their hands rather than utensils.]

Another difference between the weekly Tuesday lunch and this holiday meal was that people ate it when they received it rather than waiting until everyone was served. I was sitting with my friends Eswar, Vandya and Manaswini. Once we had our plates, we were directed to eat in the student dining hall. That was a very nice experience and further elevated my mood.

As soon as Amma fed those thousands of people, she walked down to the floor of the auditorium. Lakshmi, the ashram elephant, had already been brought into the auditorium. Amma fed her handful after handful of fruit and a lot of leftovers from the meal. She does that by putting everything directly into Lakshmi’s mouth. That was an easy task when Lakshmi was young. Now the elephant is so big, Amma has to stretch to get the food in.

One of the fun things that happens when Amma feeds Lakshmi is that she plays with her. Sometimes Amma hides bananas behind her back and before long you can see the elephant’s trunk start to search behind Amma. She eventually finds the bunch of bananas. Amma also directs Lakshmi to pick up all of the crumbs from the floor, i.e. clean up her mess. It is amazing to see her do a pretty good job of completing that chore.

Another fun thing that happened after Lakshmi finished her meal was that a tub of water was brought into the area. Lakshmi drank some of it and then started spraying people in the crowd. She did that over and over again. Once she finished spraying the water in one tub, another tub of water was brought to her. The amount of water Lakshmi can spray has certainly increased with her growth. The people she chose really got a shower.

After the time with Lakshmi was over, Amma returned to the stage. I wondered if she was going to start to give darshan again but soon discovered I was in store for another treat. Part of the room was cleared and a series of tug-of-wars started. I’d never seen that here before.

The first of many tug-of-wars were between groups of men. They kept trying to even up sides by sending part of the men over to the losing side and/or by adding more men. At least 50 men participated and probably more. It was fun and funny to watch. After some time, the brahmacharinis (women monks) did it. That was also fun and even more funny. During the entertainment program that happened later that night, slides were shown from the tug-of-wars. Everyone laughed again. I sure wish I could show you some of those photos but I doubt I will ever have that opportunity.

The morning/afternoon festivities were over about 4 and Amma went back to her room. I also returned to my room and laid down. The next thing I knew, it was 7:30 p.m. and Amma had already been singing evening bhajans for an hour. I couldn’t believe I had slept that long or that deeply.

I walked to the auditorium and participated in singing the last bhajans of the night. During the Arati that followed something happened that I had never seen before. [During Arati, a brahmachari or swami circles a camphor flame in front of Amma.] At one point, I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I saw Amma circling her arm as if she was circling an Arati flame in front of us! She had a beautific smile on her face. Whenever Amma arrives at a program, she bows to us. I think she was doing the same thing when she was circling her arm as if she was performing the Arati to us.

Amma returned to her room after the program. She had given darshan until after midnight on Sunday night and then come to the Onam program around 10 on Monday morning. She had been with us all day, took less than a two hour break and then come back for two hours of devotional singing. You might think that she would call it a day, but not so. About an hour later, she came to watch the Onam entertainment with us and stayed until 11:15 p.m.

I went back to my room soon after Amma  left. What a full day it had been. And such a good example how emotions are transitory. A day that had started with me being tired and grouchy had been full of fun. I went to sleep happy and content.

 

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.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 26-31, 2016

Saraswati Eco Textile Work Center

Since my first visit to the Saraswati Garden, I have struggled to know what to call the house where devotees are working with dye, sewing and weaving. This week, I saw a sign inside the house that gave me the answer!

saraswati

On the wall next to that sign was a prayer written by Amma:

I’m going to do this work.

Please give me enough mental, emotional and physical strength to do this as a worship of you.

Help me to do this with the right attitude knowing this is yours, not mine; I’m doing this with your power, not mine.

Help me to work sincerely, with concentration, and as best as I can, without thinking of its fruit.

Help me to derive happiness from the spirit in which I am working.

Thank you for your blessing and your guidance.

I now surrender both the actions and the fruit at your feet.

Amma models living this prayer every day of her life.

Turmeric

You may remember, about two weeks ago, we harvested turmeric roots from some of the Saraswati garden turmeric plants A day or two later, another devotee and I scrubbed them in order to remove more of the sand and then Padma boiled them. On Christmas Eve, I helped cut them into strips; afterwards, they were put outside to dry.

This is what my hands looked like after slicing the roots. Days later I was still very yellow.

Last weekend, one of my Tai Chi teachers noticed I had another color change. My Fitbit, which I use as a watch, needed to be charged so I wasn’t wearing it when I went to class. The area where my Fitbit normally is was so white compared to the rest of my skin. (The white part was even whiter than this photo shows.) Since then I’ve noticed how different my face and neckline are as well. This may be the first time in my life I’ve had a bit of a tan. It is mainly from walking to and from the garden. I suspect my dermatologist won’t be happy about it but I like it!

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Sick

I was up until 2 a.m. for the Christmas Eve program and then stayed up until nearly midnight on Christmas so I could get Amma’s darshan. I felt exhausted on Monday and by the end of the day realized I was getting sick. I slept most of Tuesday and Wednesday and stayed in my room, except for meals, until Friday morning.

There has been a cold going around so I thought I was getting that, but it moved through me way faster than what I would have expected. I began to wonder if I was detoxing instead of having a bacterial illness.

I started going to Tai Chi again on Friday and yesterday (Saturday) my Tai Chi teacher observed that my practice was much better than before I got sick. I loved hearing that, and it also supported my detox theory!

Moping

Word Press offers a daily prompt for bloggers. Because India is 13 1/2 hours ahead of the U.S. where the prompt originates, I receive the morning prompt at the end of the day. I laughed Friday night when I discovered the prompt for Friday was “Mope.”  I won’t go into all the reasons I was bitching and moaning to myself on Friday, but “Mope” was a perfect word to sum up my experience of that day!

Crowds

There were way more people at the ashram on New Year’s weekend than for Christmas, and the crowds were big then. I heard there were 1850 Western visitors here on Friday and that many more were expected to arrive on Saturday. The number of Western visitors was expected to surpass 2000 for the first time. (On my first trip in January 1990, there were 30 Western visitors in the ashram!) Thousands of Indian visitors have poured in as well. So, needless to say, the ashram is a sea of humanity.

New Year’s Eve

Last night was New Year’s Eve. In the evening there was an entertainment program that started around 9 p.m. and consisted of dancing (several Indian groups and a French group), a mime, and a rapper. A big instrumental group started to play about the time I went to bed. I don’t know if they were the end of the program or if there was more entertainment that followed.

Since I have been sick and was feeling exhausted, I decided it would be wise for me to not stay up. I think I went to bed about 11. After the entertainment, Amma would have given her Christmas message, sung some bhajans and then passed out some sweet pudding. She would have led the peace chant at some point in that process. All of this would have been amplified but I didn’t hear a thing once I laid down and closed my eyes. I feel sad about what I missed but think it was a good decision.

New Years Day

I’ve really  been looking forward to joining in the Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu chant that will be held in the temple from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. I know I will come and go from it, but I have no doubt that it will be a very powerful experience for me.

Weather

Saturday morning, I heard someone say a cold streak had gone through the previous night. I remembered it getting windy but didn’t feel cold. When I checked, I learned that the low temperature for that day was 73 degrees. What is considered a cold streak in India is certainly different than a cold streak in Seattle! It looks like next week it will continue to be in the 80’s and then during my last week here the temperature is expected to be in the 90’s.

Rupees

The rupee situation is still bad although I did see my first 500 rupee note this week. If those get into circulation then it seems it will become easier to get small change. I’ve heard a rumor that the 2000 rupee bills may be recalled since they are so hard to use. I hope that is not true. It seems this whole fiasco would start over again.

Christmas play

I think I’m going to be able to write my main Christmas play post in the next few days. I’m looking forward to sharing more about it with you! I will also post photos of last night’s New Year’s Eve entertainment once they become available.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU!