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
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 ones ears, even as the temple bells chime to
remind devotees that it is time for the morning chanting of the
Divine Mothers 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 oclock,
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
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 oclock the next morning. If you want to know your
Self, you must want it so badly the little else matters.
WHY I GO TO SEE THE HOLY MOTHER
If you had asked me nine years ago, when I first
went to see her, I would have answered: Oh, Im just
curious. Ive heard that she is a yogi, and Im reading
all about yoga and meditation these days, so Id 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 didnt 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 lifes 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 didnt
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 wasnt
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
didnt 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
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
To be loved by such a one, in so spontaneous and
unconditional a manner: what has one done to deserve such a blessing?
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
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.