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Amritapuri Ashram

At the Mata Amritanandamayi Math in Amritapuri near Quilon, South Kerala, there is a beautiful temple surrounded by huts and buildings that house more than seven hundred full-time resident….

The day dawns early in this ashram (monastery) located in the backwaters of Kerala. By half past four every morning, most residents are up: while some are having their shower, other are cleaning the sandy yard outside the temple, or cooking in the kitchen for the large number of residents, or getting the shrine ready for the morning worship. The roar of the ocean plays constantly upon one’s ears, even as the temple bells chime to remind devotees that it is time for the morning chanting of the Divine Mother’s thousand names (Lalita Saharanama).

A young lad in his twenties sits cross-legged on the stage that houses the main idol, that of the fierce Goddess Kali. Carved in black stone, she has her red tongue hanging fearsomely out, while she holds in her hand a sword. It is said that Kali can hack off the ego with great ease. Once rid of this, the greatest impediment to finding inner peace, the devotee becomes one of the world are full-time residents of this ashram, with their one and only goal being to attain Self Realization.

The temple bells chime for the third time, and the young lad on the stage begins to lead the chant. In unison, the large hall full of devotees follows the lead, and for the next hour and a half, the sound of a thousand different names of the Divine Mother reverberate throughout the entire ashram grounds. Blondes, redheads, brunettes, black braids: you can see them all sitting cross-legged and chanting, some with their eyes closed and lips gently moving. Like the BBC news, the thousand names, too, are chanted every hour on the hour, for the rest of the day, by residents who take turns. The temple is thus a place for constant chanting of the Divine Names which, it is believed, sets up holy vibrations within its precincts.

Now it is time for a cup of tea, followed by an hour or so of meditation: either on the terrace, or by the seashore, or even in the seclusion of your room. You will be allotted a room that is shared by other visitors of the same sex, and if you have gone along with your spouse, the two of you will be expected to take separate room so as to observe the code of segregation of the sexes. Total abstinence from sex forms part of the code in the ashram, where passion is to be surmounted and not succumbed to.

Breakfast is served a little after nine o’clock, and it is always porridge made of parboiled rice (kanji to the local folk). For those who are still fussy about their palate, special items are sold on certain days, and there is a Western canteen that sells wholesome, vegetarian food cooked to suit Western canteen that sells wholesome, vegetarian food cooked to suit Western taste. But if you are here for spiritual succour, you are advised to eat the plain food, for that will help you concentrate better on prayer and meditation.

Darshan or the sight of the Holy Mother, Mata Amritandamayi, beings around ten or eleven in the mornings in the temple hall and, depending upon the crowds, it can go on even until four in the afternoon. The Holy Mother hugs each and every devotee who stands in line. Even if those going to her appear tired after their long wait, she is ever fresh and smiling with a reassuring word for one, a tweak on the chin for another, an extra toffee for a crying child. The Mother gives holy ash in a packet and a toffee to each one who goes up to her.

Although the Holy Mother speaks only Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala, there are full-time residents sitting beside her who will translate your questions to her and her answers to you. There have been several instances of foreigners going to her and speaking their own tongues, and returning feeling satisfied that Mother knows their own tongues, and returning feeling satisfied that Mother knows their problem. Many full-time residents hardly exchange a word with the Mother, since they speak only English or French.

Every resident (whether full-time or temporary) is expected to participate in some seva (service) or the other, be it sweeping, swabbing, chopping vegetables, folding papers in the printing press, or packing incense (made in the ashram) into packets. There is no segregation of classes, all are the same in the eyes of the Holy Mother. Since she sees no difference in hugging a leper or a beautiful film-star, the devotees also share their chores without discriminating between higher and lower forms of work. Visitors are expected to serve as they please for an hour or two every day, while full-time residents have their work allotted to them.

There are two days in the week when the Holy Mother does not visitors, as she has to see her full-time residents on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Thursday s and Sundays, she gives Darshan as Devi, the Divine Goddess. Mata Amritanandamayi says that all deities are within each and every one of us and that a realized being can manifest any particular deity by will. T he Mother invokes the deity, Devi, and changes her attire from her usual white sari on these two evenings only. She sits all night, from about eight p.m. to seven or eight a.m. She has been known to sit uninterruptedly hugging more than seven to eight thousand devotees at a stretch, clad in a gorgeous milk sari and wearing a crown.

The Holy Mother teaches that the true nature of every being is divine, which can only be realized through selfless service, prayer and meditation. The world of plurality dissolves into one single whole for a realized person, who sees no difference between one person and another, as she sees all as manifestations of the same Self. Just as your hand will instinctively rub your inflamed eye, both belonging to the same body, so also will you spontaneously rush to the help of your fellow being when it is needed, if you realize that in fact you and he are one. To realize this, many have chosen to give up their humdrum lives and follow the rigorous routine of the ashram, where selfless service forms a large part of the daily routine. The Mother allows those who are more inclined towards introspection to meditate undisturbed for as long as they can, without expecting them to participate in the ashram chores. Since prayer, meditation and service are all paths to the same goal, the Mother leads her disciples to the goal along the path most suited to them.

It is time for lunch at half past one and rice is served from huge pans, along with vegetable curry, in the tin-roofed dining hall behind the temple. The afternoons are usually spent in some seva and then meditation hour is at sunset. Whatever you miss here, there are two times of the day when you are expected to be in the temple hall, come what may. One is the morning archana, (as they chanting of the thousand names is called), and the other is the evening bhajan, when the Holy Mother leads the throng of devotees with Her soul-stirring songs, sung with rare devotion. Many foreigners who cannot pronounce, let alone understand, the words in these songs, can be seen swaying to the music, with eyes closed and a rapt expression on their faces, transported to a word shared only by them and the Mother.

The bhajan begins a little before seven in the evenings, and ends at eight. Dinner (again kanji) follows, but for the full-time residents there is first a talk by one of devotees. Their day will not end until another hour or so of meditation after dinner, perhaps a few more chores in the press or the computer room, after which they may go to sleep after midnight so as to rise again before five o’clock the next morning. If you want to know your Self, you must want it so badly the little else matters.


If you had asked me nine years ago, when I first went to see her, I would have answered: “Oh, I’m just curious. I’ve heard that she is a yogi, and I’m reading all about yoga and meditation these days, so I’d like to see if she is a fake or for real”.

I saw a dark, fat lady dressed in white, with a dazzling diamond ring on her nose. When she hugged me, I found myself spontaneously address her as Amma, telling her of the problem uppermost in my mind, and even breaking down unabashedly. I later found out that she is only five years older than I.

But that was nine years ago.

I didn’t think of her as more than a very compassionate and loving lady after that first visit. Although she had given me a hug, some holy ash in a packet, and a toffee. Apart from that, I had loved her singing, which transported me to another, and far more beautiful, world.

I did go again to see her the next year, and the next. Both times, however, I retained my first impression, grudgingly granting her a little higher place in my heart on each visit. She was certainly no ordinary person, I granted, but that was as far as I could tell. My intellect simply could not accept all this talk about miracles and supernatural powers ascribed to the Holy Mother. To each her own, was as far as I could allow. I was happy to enjoy her bhajans and carry back a few recorded cassettes with me. As far as I was concerned, that was enough.

Along came one of life’s action-packed disasters, and I found myself running back to the ashram to see her once more. This time, I found myself asking for succour, for a ready and instant solution to my problem. I had heard that she often granted people their innermost desires. Well, would she grant me mine? My intellect had taken a back seat by now, I wanted my problem to be solved, by just about any means, believable or not, it didn’t matter.

To my utter dismay, the Mother kept right on hugging me, but no ready solution was forthcoming from her. As the days went by, I was told by her that I would have to undergo this, as it was by karma. This was certainly no miracle monger: why wasn’t she working some of her magic on me? I was disappointed beyond description. When she had granted children to childless couples, healed lepers, cured fatal diseases, why was she withholding the same reversal of late for me? I could not accept her discrimination, but stayed on in the ashram for a month, my longest stay there.

I was only later to realize the magic that she was indeed working on me, subtly and slowly. While none of my external circumstance changed, my inner resources did. I slowly began to find that I was resisting life less and less, only because I was beginning to feel loved more and more, by someone who showed me each time I went to her that she knew my innermost thoughts, but instead of judging me as most people did, She kept right on loving me. It didn’t matter whether I was in good circumstances or bad, her attitude to me was always the same. More remarkably, I would find that her attitude to everyone was the same in Dispassionate, undiscriminating and constant love was there for all to see: each time I went to see her, I came back more convinced of something unchanging, eternal, impartial and ever-loving.

Today, my reasons for going to see her are so different from those of nine, even two, years ago. No longer do I view the Mother as the problem-solver, the granter of boons, the person whose role it is to reverse my fate and set things right in my life.

Instead I see her as the only reality (I, who had first gone to check out it she was fake or for real). In a constantly changing and illusory world, the Mother is, to me, a reflection of what every human being is, in his or her innermost recesses and can actually become, with sustained meditation and selfless service. I see her as a subtle force that is not linked only to the physical frame which is clad in white, but is far more encompassing and expressive than can be imagined by the limited human mind.

To be loved by such a one, in so spontaneous and unconditional a manner: what has one done to deserve such a blessing?

I wonder.

To each his own: and it cannot be truer when looking for spiritrual succour. Visit this peaceful ashram along the backwaters of Kerala if you think here is where you find that elusive inner peace.

Getting There

To go there, you must take a train to Kayankulam (where it stops for only two minutes), the station before Quilon, and then an auto-rickshaw from this station will reach you to the backwaters of Vallickavu in about half an hour. Alternatively, a flight to Trivandrum, and a long (two-to-three-hour) taxi ride to Vallickavu. A ferry will then take you across the waters, and you will probably find a helpful devotee clad in white ready to help you carry your luggage to the ashram.