Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 24-28, 2016

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

Onam 2018

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.

Photo Credits: Onam Photos are from Amma’s Facebook Page and Amritapuri.org

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.

Salad Day

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.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 15-18, 2018

I left Seattle for Amritapuri, India at 5:50 p.m. on the 15th of August. Fourteen hours later, I arrived at the Dubai airport. While I was there, I received notice that Amma had asked the Amritapuri ashram residents and visitors to chant the peace mantra 108 times at 10 p.m. That mantra and translation is:

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings in the world be happy

The chant ends with:

Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Peace, Peace, Peace

Even though I didn’t know for sure why Amma had made that request, I assumed it was because of flooding that was occurring in the Kochi area. I decided I would also participate. I finished the chant minutes before boarding my plane to Trivandrum.

After the 14 hour flight between Seattle and Dubai, there is a 2 1/2 hour layover in Dubai, followed by a 4 hour flight to Trivandrum. Usually, I start the 2 1/2 hour taxi ride to Amritapuri as soon as I retrieve my baggage. This time, however, I was traveling with my friend Kumuda. When she comes to India, she spends a day in Kovalam so that she has a chance to rest before making the last leg of the journey. I decided I would also do that this time. Maybe resting at that juncture would reduce the amount of jet lag I experience.

We arrived at the hotel about 5 a.m. It is off-season now so the hotel was really quiet. In fact, we may have been their only guests! It was wonderful to lie down for a while and then walk to the beach for breakfast.

I hadn’t been to Kovalam since 1993 and at that time I had stayed in a different area. After we had breakfast, Kumuda showed me around. Two types of flowers caught my eye. They were so beautiful.

I also saw a vine on a trellis that was growing a fruit that looked like limes. I say “looked like” because the fruit was perfectly round and the skin was shiny. At first I wondered if it was an artificial plant. When I glanced at the leaves, though, it was obvious that the plant was real.

There was heavy rain from time to time on the day we were in Kovalam. When I checked the news that evening, I learned that 13 out of the 14 districts in Kerala had been put on red alert due to the rain.  By morning, the last district was also on red alert. The worst flooding was in Kochi. [An article written on August 18 said the floods in Kerala were  the worst in a hundred years. The article also  said the flood had killed at least 324 people and 220,000 others had been displaced. Kochi airport was still completely submerged and was expected to be closed until August 26.]

The weather forecast predicted there would be thunderstorms the next day. I began to wonder if it would be safe to take the taxi ride from Kovalam to Amritapuri. When I checked the forecast the next morning, I discovered that it had changed. Now, it called for clouds or light rain during the time that we were planning the drive to the ashram. We left Kovalam at 5:30 a.m. and arrived at the ashram at 8:00.

I was grateful…. and relieved…. to be back at my spiritual home!

asrham-07
Amritapuri temple

I checked in at the International Office and then took my luggage to my room. Shortly thereafter, I went to see Sreejit and Chaitanya, my son and daughter, who both live at the ashram. I love every reunion we have. It is always so good to be with them.

Amritapuri during the 2004 tsunami

Being in a situation where flooding is possible, brings up memories for me of being in Amritapuri during the 2004 tsunami. After the tsunami hit, all the people from the nearby villages and the ashram were evacuated. Amma provided food and shelter for everyone at Amrita University and her nearby schools.

Many of the ashram residents and visitors and some of the villagers stayed at the Engineering College for five days. I remember witnessing the grief of the villagers who had lost family members. I also remember being thankful to have the clothes on my back and a mat to sleep on.

More than two hundred people had died in the village closest to the ashram that day and many more had died in other parts of India and beyond. Amma’ provided food, shelter, clothing, and medical care both locally and to Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. In the years that followed, she also provided job training and built many houses for tsunami victims. To read more about Amma’s 2004 tsunami relief programs click here.

 

Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS)
Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS)

Soon after I arrived at the ashram this year, I learned that Amma had sprung into action once again. Even though the first floor of her multi-specialty hospital (AIMS) in Ernakulum had flooded, it took in the patients from hospitals that had needed to be evacuated. Amma sent many of the ashram’s brahmacharis and brahmacharinis (male and female monks), as well as Western visitors who wanted to help, to AIMS to deal with the influx of patients and to do the manual labor needed to move everything from the flooded first floor of the hospital to higher floors. They also filled sandbags and dug structures to protect the hospital from future flooding. [ I haven’t seen those structures so I don’t know what they looked like.]

Amma has also started dozens of medical relief camps and provided water, food, clothes and bedding to people who needed it. Thirty out of 40 of her schools around the state have become relief shelters. She has also made a large donation to aid the government’s relief program. To learn more about the current relief efforts go to the Latest News section in Embracing the World.

After having breakfast, I went back to my flat and continued the process of moving in. At some point, I decided to go to the temple to watch Amma giving darshan to those who came to the ashram that day. [Amma’s form of darshan/blessing is to give hugs. She has embraced more than 37 million people world-wide.] When I visit India, I often wait for several days or even a week before I go to Amma for a hug. That day, darshan was being held in the temple and the crowd was much smaller than normal.

Usually, bus loads of people come to see Amma on darshan days. I realized that the devotees couldn’t get here because of the floods. And since the Cochin airport was closed, many of the international visitors weren’t able to be here either.

I decided I would go for darshan. Before long I was in Amma’s arms. Now I was truly …. and fully …. home.

Photo Credits: Amma’s Facebook Page