Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017

When I planned my trip to Amritapuri this year, I made a priority of being there during Krishna Jayanthi, the day Krishna’s birth is celebrated each year. In my early days with Amma, I found myself crying deeply whenever I sang or listened to some bhajans (devotional songs). When I checked out those bhajans later, I discovered that almost all of them were Krishna songs. I didn’t know anything about Krishna from my conscious mind, but clearly some part of me did.

I have been at Amritapuri on Krishna Jayanthi twice before. An important part of the celebration is a procession that goes from the ashram to a nearby Krishna temple. The group sings all the way to the temple. When I participated in that procession in 2003, I was in bliss the whole time. The second time I was at the ashram on Krishna Jayanthi, my back went out just prior to the celebration and I wasn’t able to walk in the procession.

This year, for me, Krishna’s birthday was a time of bliss, a time of sadness, and a time of challenges. Prior to booking my trip, I had done an internet search for the 2017 date of Krishna Jayanthi in Kerala. August 14 was the date that came up. I booked my trip for August 9 so that I would have time to get over some of the jet lag before the big day. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017”

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Living and Learning in Amritapuri: September 1-10, 2017

For various reasons, I got behind in sharing the experiences I was having in Amritapuri. I am still going to do that even though I’ve been back in Seattle for almost a month.

Karthika

There are special programs each month on Karthika, Amma’s birth star. In September, Karthika was on September 9. What I like best about Karthika  is the sight below.

This time, I attended the chanting and singing that was occurring that evening in the Kalari. I really enjoyed doing that and the sweets that were handed out at the end of the program were a nice treat too.

Challenges

I’ve mentioned before that when we are around Amma, it is common for our weaknesses and negative tendencies to come up so that we can see them and work on them. A negativity that was in my face numerous times on this trip was feeling incompetent. One of the times I felt that way was when I attempted to take orders in the cafe. At that time, I was still having difficulty writing because my broken wrist wasn’t completely healed. Even more of a problem was the fact that I hadn’t done that job for years. I didn’t know the current prices and as a result I was really slow.

Another place I felt incompetent when I was doing the prasad line seva. My job was to see that the two lines of people who were going to hand Amma prasad (the packets of ash and candy that she gives people who come to her for a hug) was always full and that all prasad givers had been trained to do the job. One of those lines is on the stage, the other is down on the auditorium floor. Doing all components of the job became even more complicated if there were times I had to wander the auditorium, and even outside the auditorium, looking for people to fill the line.

About the time I was beginning to feel reasonably competent in doing the job, there was a day when the darshan location was changed to the temple. That building is much smaller than the auditorium and had a different system for the prasad lines. Some things went badly and I couldn’t figure out why. Back to feeling incompetent. I was relieved that my next shift would be in the big auditorium. WRONG. The day before my next shift, I learned that the auditorium was going to be used for Amrita University’s graduation ceremony and darshan would once again be in the temple. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri: September 1-10, 2017”

Night Approaches in Amritapuri

When I stepped off the elevator on my floor tonight, I saw that the sun was starting to set. I decided to photograph the sunset and beyond.

6:24 p.m.
6:25 p.m.
6:26 p.m.
6:27 p.m.
6:34 p.m.
6:37 p.m.
6:38 p.m.
6:43 p.m.
6:47 p.m.

As night approaches, the sound of birds coming home to roost fills the air… and eagles soar overhead.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

Shared with Senior Salon

Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

There have been very few geckos in my room (in India) this year. I have missed them. The ones I have seen have been very small, about a third of the size of the ones I see in December. Maybe this is the time of year they are born.

A few days ago, when I was lounging on my bed, I looked up and saw a baby gecko. It was less than two inches from its head to the bottom of its tail. My photo didn’t turn out very clear so I decided to share it using a PicMonkey effect called Edge. That effect allows only the outline of the object being photographed to be visible. Do you see the outline of the little gecko? I really like how the photo turned out.

The gecko was located just below the place where the ceiling meets the wall. I watched it for some time. I was struck by how long it stayed in one place. I knew geckos eat insects so I decided it was waiting for one to come near. The only insects I’ve seen in the room are mosquitoes so it was probably waiting to eat one of those. The gecko was more patient than I was, so in time I stopped waiting for it to move and left the room.

When I returned an hour later, the gecko was in the same part of the room, but it had turned the other direction; it was facing south instead of north. The gecko continued to wait. I continued to watch it periodically. I didn’t have the patience to be waiting quietly to see what happened next.

About an hour later, I noticed the gecko start to walk down the wall. My half-hearted attempt at waiting was over! I decided I would video the gecko’s descent. The problem was, I had to get closer to do that. And when I moved in, the gecko stopped. It looked like it was watching me, waiting for me to go away. I waited for some time but once again, the gecko had more patience than I did. Eventually, I stopped waiting for the opportunity to take a video and took a still photo instead. I decided to use the PicMonkey Frost effect on this one.

I could learn a lot about patience from a gecko, if I was willing to wait long enough to learn it! But I guess that is a learning in and of itself.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

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.

My Ganesh Chaturthi Experience

I continued attending the Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari from 9-10 each night. All in all, it was nine nights of pure bliss for me as we sang the rocking, high intensity songs. How I have yearned to return to the days when bhajans affected me that way. Two or three of those days, I even sat cross-legged on the floor for the whole time although I asked someone for a hand when I wanted to get up at the end. For one reason or another, I’ve needed to sit in chairs at programs for several years so was excited to see that I could once again be comfortable sitting in the middle of a bhajan group.

Then on Sunday, the big day arrived. It was Ganesh’s birthday, the culmination of the ten day celebration. At 3:30 in the afternoon, devoteese gathered near the Kalari for the procession. We put on orange headbands and placed sandlewood paste and red kum kum on our foreheads, slightly above the junction between our eyebrows. Once we did that, we were instructed to have a seat in the Kalari.

I sat down in a place that was near perfect. (The photo at the top of this post shows the view I had even though the photo was taken on a different day.) I knew I was in an ideal location for the singing that was to come prior to the procession. I was torn though, because I also knew that Lakshmi, the ashram elephant, was in front of the temple and soon I could hear the sound of the horns and drums that have been associated with Hindu festivals since antiquity coming from there as well. I didn’t want to miss anything. Then, to make it even harder to stay put, the sound of big drums being played began. I stayed where I was, choosing to have a slightly delayed gratification.

Before long, I could tell that the drums were coming our way. They got louder and louder. I was so excited. Simultaneously, the bhajans began. By now, most of the songs were familiar to me. I was in bliss. I don’t remember how many we sang but before long it was time to begin the procession.

The big and heavy statue was moved to a decorated cart. That was quite a feat. As soon as it was ready, two men got onto the cart behind it and some others began to pull the cart. The procession had begun.

After leaving the Kalari, we walked to the courtyard in front of the temple where Lakshmi and the two devotees who were riding her were waiting.

Lakshmi and musicians with ceremonial instruments lead the procession.

We wound our way towards the auditorium, where Amma was giving darshan, singing the whole time.

When I started the procession, I was walking with a friend who prefers to be on the outskirts of crowds. I soon realized that this experience was one of the main reasons I had come to Amritapuri this time, so I darted into the crowd and made my way to the front where I could be in the thick of things. As I reflect on it now, I find that interesting. I always want to be on an aisle seat on a plane or in a theater, because I don’t like getting hemmed in. But this was different. I wanted to experience every drop of what it was possible for me to experience.

Soon, Ganesh was in front of Amma.

After leaving the auditorium, we headed towards the beach. Normally that would be a five to ten minute walk but we walked slowly. People lined both sides of the streets and pathways, watching as we walked by. Every so often the procession would stop and the singing and dancing would intensify.

When we made it to the beach, Lakshmi and the musicians waited on the beach…

… while a smaller group of devotees took the Ganesh statue out onto a rock jetty. There he was dropped into the ocean so the clay he was made from could dissolve and his essence return to Mt. Kailash, his heavenly abode.

The crowd spread along the coast line to see the immersion as best they could. After Ganesh had been taken by the ocean waves, everyone dispersed and made their way back to the ashram. I felt happy and full.

 

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.

Amritapuri Sunrise

This morning I decided it was high time for me to watch the sunrise. And what an experience it was.

6:02
6:06
6:10
6:17
6:20
6:22
6:24
6:27
6:32
6:37
6:53
6:53

I can’t believe that it took me three weeks to open the curtains of my room first thing in the morning so that I could see the beauty of the sunrise. What a metaphor that is for life. We miss so much because of the blinders we wear.

Quite a few of the photos I took towards the end of this series had a blue orb in it. I’m thinking the camera may have been reacting to the blinding light of the sun, although that is only a guess.

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.