September 26, 2014: The day before Amma’s 61st birthday.
People come to Amritapuri from near and far for Amma’s birthday. From North and South America, Europe, Japan, Malaysia, Russia and many parts of India. Some of us fly in to nearby airports. Some tribal people walk long distances and have never previously been outside their villages, let alone to the ashram. A line of buses brings people from the neighboring train station. The ashram is packed like a bee hive. Endless rows of new red and blue plastic chairs, along with the regular old tan ones fill the darshan hall. It’s around 10:30 am. Every seat seems taken and people stand along the edges waiting to catch a glimpse of Amma as She arrives. The space, or lack of, around people is so different from what i am used to. I look out at the hall and it appears to me like a sea of people. I feel overwhelmed! And the birthday is tomorrow. This is only a preview… a dress rehearsal for the mega darshan marathon when Amma holds each and everyone who comes to Her for a couple of seconds. A hug, a transmitting of sound, eye to eye contact, a packet of sacred ash with a candy and another with laddu placed in the person’s hand…. Bend and hug for a count of one, one thousand… next. Bend, hug, one, one thousand, two… next. Bend, hug, one…. next. Bend, hug…. Bend, hug …. Bend, hug …. Bend, hug … Bend, hug … Time and time again! Today Amma will do this for about five hours non stop. Tomorrow, as during previous birthdays She will probably give darshan for close to twenty four hours! For hours Amma bends forward and hugs. She will do this thousands of times over the next couple of days. To my mind this is not humanly possible. And in this hugging moment She offers a life changing, transformative experience. A source of hope, of consoling, of celebration, of uplifting someone from their pain or despair. To be in proximity of, or looked at by the Guru is considered a blessing let alone to be touched or held.
In this sea, people from all different walks of life, cultures, social groups move in very close proximity. Indians, Westerners, householders, renunciates, ashram residents and visitors wearing white clothes, sadhus with an orange cloth draped around them, women in saris of all colors, men in western clothes or dhotis, young students from Amma’s schools, recognizable by their earth tone uniforms… They are all here for The Birthday!
I feel overwhelmed in this moving mass of bodies. I look for ways to stay centered, practice self care, find balance and attempt to stay grounded. Taking the back way to and from the canteen to avoid the crowds in front of the darshan hall. Imagining myself as a leaf flowing down a river, going with the current, finding the open spaces and gravitating towards them, meandering through them. Remembering to be the flower on a long stem that bends and flows with the wind, like a sunflower. Chant mantra.
Amrita University, venue of Amma’s birthday celebration
Amrita Sethu bridge crossing the backwaters links Amritapuri to the village of Vallikavu and Amrita University