By Maria Wirth January 2008 Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) is one of the greatest spiritual presences of our times, and a powerhouse of love and compassion During each era India has produced great souls, and Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as Amma, is without doubt a very great soul of our time. She is the Mother incarnate, who takes everyone in her loving embrace. Amma’s feat is humanly impossible. I am convinced of it. Watching her hugging some people for a few minutes may not seem extraordinary, but watching her for 15 hours is. Of course, I didn’t manage to watch her for 15 hours at a stretch. In between, I went for lunch, for tea, for dinner, had chats with other visitors to her ashram near Kollam in Kerala, checked my email, yet whenever I came back to the temple, there was Amma sitting in the same position, embracing men, women and children, beaming with joy if someone looked joyful, and expressing sympathy with someone who was sad, listening with rapt attention, talking animatedly, her eyes alive, sometimes laughing out loud, ever fresh, alert, awake to the needs of the moment, no trace of her own person, no trace of any want, of tiredness, of impatience. There was light, joy, and great aliveness around Amma – and unconditional, divine love for everyone that flowed out in a warm, motherly hug. Amma often takes her breakfast only on the next day after midnight. Thereafter, she meets her administrators, attends to work related to the many social projects her Trust runs, or to her travel programmes all over the world. Residents of her ashram genuinely wonder whether she ever sleeps. When she travels, her schedule is even more backbreaking. She sits through whole nights, sometimes up to 20 hours at a stretch, till everybody present had got a chance to be embraced by her. Asked how she manages to endure those long sittings for some 20 years now, she replied, “Where there is love, there is no effort.” Obviously, she has an inexhaustible reservoir of love, and she disclosed what she loves so much: “If a honey bee buzzes around the flowers in a garden, it does not see the different flowers, but the honey that is in them. Similarly, Amma sees the highest Self in everybody.” Where does Amma get all this love from? Looking at her biography, one would understand if she had become bitter about life. Hers was not a happy childhood. Sudhamani, as she was named, was the fourth of nine children of a poor family of the fishing community, who lived on a small stretch of land between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters in Parayakadavu village in Kerala. Her mother did not even inform any relatives at first about her birth on September 27, 1953. The reason: the newborn was unusually dark, besides being a girl. After the 4th Standard, Sudhamani had to quit school to take over the household duties, as her mother had developed arthritis. Her brothers and sisters could continue their education, while she, as the darkest of them, was treated as the family servant, and even lent to relatives for work. Her day started at 3 am and lasted till 11 pm, and her mother was an unkind supervisor. She would beat her up even if one leaf was left in the courtyard after sweeping. Sudhamani also received many blows for giving away provisions from the family storeroom to villagers who were hungry. Yet, she would not learn. She suffered a beating rather than refuse food to someone. Abiding in KrishnaLife was hard for Sudhamani, and she learnt early that the world had not much to offer. Yet she did not break, because she had tremendous support right from birth. It was her complete devotion to Sri Krishna, to whom she poured out her heart at night in soulful songs. It is inexplicable why this little girl had so much devotion for Sri Krishna. Her family certainly did not encourage it, on the contrary. Amma later said, “From birth itself I had an intense liking for the Divine Name, so much so, I would repeat the Lord’s name incessantly with every breath, and a constant flow of divine thoughts was kept up in my mind irrespective of the place where I was, or the work I was attending to.” Yet Sudhamani not only repeated Krishna’s name, she cried out to him, when she felt he was hiding from her and danced in ecstasy, when she felt his presence as real. Her devotion was so intense that her family and some villagers considered her strange, if not crazy. They did not realise that she blissfully abided in Krishna bhava. In 1975, when Amma was 22, a change happened. She was on her way home from cutting grass for the cows. While passing a neighbouring courtyard, where the Bhagavatam in praise of Lord Krishna was sung, Amma stood transfixed, the bundle of grass fell to the ground, and she rushed into the congregation. Her identification with Krishna overflowed into her features and behaviour, and her inner oneness with Him became manifest. The villagers felt that Krishna had come to them in the form of this dark girl. The news spread like wildfire and sceptics came as well. Those sceptics demanded a miracle. When they promised they would not ask for any further miracle, Amma relented, ‘Come next month when Bhagavatam is recited again.’ They came in droves; everywhere, in the courtyard, on trees, on the roof, people had gathered, many expecting to expose a fraud. Amma asked for a pitcher of water and sprinkled the water on those present. Then she asked one of the sceptics to put his fingers into the water and lo, it had turned into milk. Another sceptic was called to put his fingers into the milk. Now the milk had turned into panchamritam with raisins and banana bits. This miracle is reported in her biography written by Swami Amritaswarupananda, who came as a young man, Balu by name, to Amma right after college in 1978, and changed through this contact ‘from a worldly youth to a seeker of truth’. He is still with Amma, manages the affairs of the ashram, and certainly is trustworthy. Besides, Amma would not tolerate falsehood in her biography, and the majority of the people who witnessed this incident are still alive. From then on, Amma showed herself in Krishna bhava several times a week, and people flocked to her from afar. Yet her tribulations even increased. During Krishna bhava, Amma danced in ecstasy and embraced everyone, women and men, young and old, high and low. This was too much for her elder brother, who was an avowed atheist, and considered the honour of his family at stake. He threw her out of the house, and even plotted with some cousins to kill her. The villagers were divided. Some revered her; others opposed her vehemently after she had thwarted their attempt to take financial advantage of the Krishna bhava. This second group included sons of some landowners, who subsequently founded a ‘committee to stop blind belief’, and got about a thousand youths from the surrounding villages enrolled. They made life difficult for Amma. “Here comes Krishna!” they taunted her when she passed by, and even threw stones. They filed cases against her, got negative articles published in the media, offered her poisonous milk to drink (which she smilingly accepted and then vomited in front of them), scattered poisonous thorns over the place where she would dance, took the help of a black magician, and even hired a killer. Yet all their attempts to take her life and drive away her devotees miraculously failed. Amma, meanwhile, was even more intense in her devotion. Now, after having shown her oneness with Krishna, all her longing was for Devi, the Divine Mother. She lived outdoors, had only animals for company, neglected her body and behaved like a small child desperately crying for her mother. One day, Devi appeared before her in all her splendour and, becoming dazzling effulgence, merged into her. “From that day onwards I could see nothing as different from my own formless Self,” Amma later said. Slowly, her opponents exhausted themselves, and many even became devotees. Her elder brother contracted elephantiasis and committed suicide in 1978. In the same year, 1978, several young, educated men came determined to live a spiritual life under the guidance of Amma, in most cases against the wishes of their well-to-do families. Amma’s father, however, did not allow them to stay near Amma. In 1981, when more people came, among them some foreigners, Amma reluctantly agreed to form an ashram. “Amma has heard a lot about ‘ashram’. Is it not bondage?” she had asked. “Amma has her own freedom. There should be no obstacle for that.” The Mata Amritanandamayi Math and Mission Trust was registered in May 1981, and started with a simple hut under palm trees on her father’s land. It has grown enormously over the last 25 years. Some 1,800 people reside now in the ashram, including around 500 foreigners, and as the land is limited, the pink buildings rise up 18 stories high. Colleges, schools, a hospital, even a swimming pool – for the students to learn swimming in this area full of water bodies – have come up, and a bridge for pedestrians was constructed across the backwaters to make it easier for the thousands of visitors who come for her darshan. Yet it seems that Amma did lose some of the simple freedoms which are taken for granted. For example, though she lives only some 100 metres away from the ocean, she can’t walk there any more without being surrounded by scores of eager devotees. Brahmachari Shubhamrita, who is in charge of the European chapter of Amma’s organisation, disclosed that there was a time when Amma sneaked out in the middle of the night to sit by the sea quietly, as in earlier days. But soon, this was detected, and people stayed up at night, waiting for her to emerge. So she stopped it. The ocean may feel sad that she is not coming anymore. Sw
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