All decked out for a wedding

I have told you in the past about Shanti Devi, the recipient of our first house, but have said little about her son Harish who will also be living there. He too shares her pain, the loss of a father, brother, and the mules that were the source of his family’s income. Today Harish was married. Although the house is far from completed, a temporary tarp roof was added, and they moved in for the occasion. As they have been living in a tent for many months, the unfinished house seemed quite spacious and took on a very festive air.

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A family pundit performed an elaborate set of rituals. Yellow cum cum was used as a wide circle of family each blessed Harish, then he blessed the house on all sides with yellow hand prints.

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Harish was ritually bathed, then dressed in the traditional white suit, money garland, and hat.

He then left on a white horse in a procession down the hill, going to the bride’s home in a neighboring village.

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I’ll show you the bride and scenes from the actual wedding in tomorrows post.
- Scotti

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smoking in the landslide

07 April 2014
I am here in Batawari, Uttarakhand for the last few days to document the work of the volunteers. today land slide happened right in front of us when me and sudheer were walking with village ladies. it was just 5 meter in front of us!

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2 villagers fell down, but they were o.k. there were 2 nepali workers working down there and they were buried in dirt. one was completely buried and another half the body. me and sudheer were the only men around at the time so we rushed down and started digging bare hands. after some time other workers arrived with shovel and tools so we all dig.
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one guy was in pain so we hurried but it took like 30 min to dig them out. after many people arrived i took some photos while digging. the other guy who was buried half body was not in pain and kept smoking. that was bit funny.
- abhay

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abhay

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Amma naama in Mandakini

“Hariyuva nadiya kalaravadalli kelutaliruvudu ammanaama!”

I heard a brahmachari singing to himself the above lines as we some of us Amma children were trekking along the Mandakini River in deeper Himalayas. When Amma is available in Amritapuri, all would throng there; but Her children posted in Himalayas have to complete as much of Her work as possible of building houses before the rains start. So they hear Amma Name in the sound of the river Mandakini!

With Amma’s blessings I happened to join them here last week.

On 3rd  April, our first day here, early in the morning there was a small puja at the construction site of the 14th house on Batawari sonar village slope by Chandrapuri, where lies Ashram’s base camp.  That was our first taste of the steep climbs. It’s no joke to walk up, still less to carry building material, we understood it firsthand!

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We did puja and chanted archana in which local people participated. The recipients did puja to the digging instrument and reverentially did the first dig. Then they offered kumkum, chandan and rice grain smears to the forehead of each one present; and distributed Prasad sweets.

The day kept us occupied with the Ammachi lab work at centers. The evening was a treat. Here in the northern belt people celebrate four navaratris a year, one per season. The Vasanta navaratri had begun from the day after Kannada Yugadi, namely April 1st onwards.

After hot roti and sabji, we walked up an uphill road, walked about a mile to reach the peepal tree. Even before we reached we had heard women singing to loud musical instruments. There were more than a dozen women that evening who gathered to sing almost up to midnight.

Jai ho mata durga bhavani
Haath jodu puja karulaa

The women have a strong stentorious voice that can be heard on the opposite hill; their songs pour out with less melody yet with more enthusiasm. Bhajans being their own compositions, they stress on the meaningful words and render the songs. They play on their instruments themselves. Song after song follows but the women do not compete in any way. Old and young, all of them open out their innocent voice and, clapping to the rhythm, sing the lines ‘in full throated ease’ ( as Keats’s birds.)

After each song, they do jaikar to the deity of the song and to Pipaleshwar Mahadev, the Shiva under that peepal tree; then, much to our surprise and joy, they add, Mata Amritanandamay Devi ki Jai!

And as the bhajans reach a peak mood, women slowly come to the central space and begin to dance! As the dancing goes on, it is not rare to see some going into trance and out of the everyday realm.

Amma the mother of all has easily entered the hearts of these simple rustics. This village has several beneficiaries of Amma’s houses, as well as the educational programs at anganvadi both for children and adults, and the tuition classes for school going children. And more to come.

 

- Sandhya

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Fertile fields

The Himalayas are the youngest mountain range on earth. That is both a good and a bad thing. They are prone to dramatic earthquakes, landslides, and devastating floods like we saw last summer. But the mountains also thrust up fresh, nutrient rich soil that makes this an
extremely productive place to farm.

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When I first arrived in late December, the fields in the Mandakini valley were ablaze with the brilliant yellow of mustard flower. Actually the mustard is a cover crop, planted along with winter wheat.

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In the past few weeks, the mustard has been harvested by hand from amongst the wheat which has now shot above waist high.

The thick crop of wheat will be ready for harvest by the end of April.

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Then the earth will be quickly turned to plant a rice crop just after the monsoon. Three crops from one field, very hard work, but the land supports them well. No wonder people are so happy to stay here despite harsh conditions.

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-Scotti

 

 

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Birds joining Tuesday meditation

19 March, Tuesday

Birds did their usual din all morning, and around ten as we started chanting archana, they all fell silent. The archana was resounding in the entire ashram. It was followed by an intense silence, a special something that only Tuesdays have seen. Over 4000 people were in the big hall, doing meditation. They were waiting for Amma’s arrival for their special day with Amma. On Amma’s arrival meditation resumed; Shubhamrita ji was giving the instruction, which started with Om.

Silently the pigeons left, flying out of the hall; the swish of their wings underlining the silence of the mediation hall. The newcomer in ashram, the lone parrot, perched on a low hanging branch in the western canteen area, however, decided to join in the Om. He gave a soft long call to keep company. But on seeing that no other bird joined, instantly he chose to remain silent. But that was already a cue to other birds in hiding. Like, a truant boy runs some place, and the other boys think they should run too. The woodpecker somewhere to the east of hall screeched, making its presence felt. The tailor bird started off a long line in its high pitch from the garden on the western side; as if in response, the sunbird chirped though not so loudly. The tailorbird changed its line and sang a longer and louder line thus defeating the sunbird. The magpie robin at some distance north of the hall, sang a beautiful long line good enough to shut up the tailor bird. Then, a good barbet from a very very long distance and height– cannot say which direction- made itself heard with its rhythmic kutr kutr. This ‘mantra japa’ reminded me of the mediation I was supposed to be doing with Ma and Om in my breath.

However I have never felt the bird song a distraction in my pursuits. Birds are beings of the air, a subtle Element. Associating with them has always made my heart soar to heights from the mundane level. Birds fly freely in the sky, the subtlest of the Elements, reminder of the all pervading Consciousness.

- Sandhya

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Birds of all feathers assemble in Amritapuri

One wonders if seasonal changes matter to birds in Amritapuri at all.

In connection with the establishment of the Sringeri mutt by Sri Sankara there is specific mention of his seeing a snake offering shelter to a frog from sun and on that spot he built the ashram. An ashram is a place where no antagonistic feelings -otherwise natural to beings- arise, for an ashram is a shantidhama, an abode of peace.

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Amritapuri seems a step ahead of this. In this shantidhama right now we see many new buildings coming up. Construction work never stops on this campus. Such a development presupposes disappearance of flora and fauna. Birds especially would go away in fear of sound and strangers- humans. But here we see a different development. Birds are coming closer and mingling with human lives. They are at your windows. They are on your terraces. They are in your gardens. They are in your potted plants, sucking nectar from flowers, or nibbling at the insects in them.

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Not a year ago a visiting peacock was seen walking about in the ashram; he had actually landed on the roof of the International Office where he spent some two hours, just being there to be seen by many of us. Then he decided to leave, got down the roof, walked daintily past the erstwhile laundry, coconut peeling area, backyard of the erstwhile kitchen where they cut vegetables; past the round buildings of –, western canteen area; past the carpool, the hospital, past the construction workers digging the foundation for the now ready flats near the boy’s hostel. Then the road splits into three: the peacock chose to take to wings from that point! When I went along the trail looking for it, the women cutting veggies said, “Yes, the beautiful peacock walked this way.” When I went near the canteen, some westerners at the tables said, “Yes, the beautiful peacock walked this way.” When I went near the carpool, Manu saw me and guessed I was looking for the peacock and said, “Chechi, the beautiful peacock walked this way.” The workers on the foundation work said, “Haan ji, vo more idhar se aiyse chalte gaya.” It seemed a very casual thing. It looked like the peacock knew its path.

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Now there is a new arrival: a green parakeet or parrot as we say in India. Last week one morning he showed his presence on Amma’s path to the stage for darshan. He must have been living with humans before. He sits on a low branch above our heads, beyond the reach of the longest arms. Show him some fruits, he just walks up a few steps indicating refusal; pull your hand down, he comes down to his previous heights. He calls very rarely and only purposefully.

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In Amritapuri in all seasons, there is always the birds’ song in the air. At a time you can hear a tiny sunbird or nut-hatcher warbling by your window and a lone kingfisher screeching from its perch above your neighbour’s water-tank, and yet another bird, barbet invariably, chanting its ‘kutrr kutrr’ mantra from a yonder tree top. Or a pair or two of myna plying between tree branches and building sides, cackling and discussing, trying to decide something. Maybe about a lizard on the ground to be shared with a sauntering coucal; the coucal is gook-gooking for sometime over the same matter.

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Soon one will realize how one had taken for granted the loud plaintive kuhoo kuhoo of the red eyed black koel; he is there almost all the time, calling plaintively and insistently, sometimes flying low above our heads, drawing attention: It is me, not your crow. Please, grant me some attention.

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Only a decade ago we would sneer at the presence of so many loud crows and speak out about the absence of koels. Now things have changed so much as far as bird life in Amritapuri is concerned.

You should not be surprised if you see a magpie robin or a flame-back wood-pecker near food waste bins alongside crows who are not as noisy as before.

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As if kites and shags were not enough to duck in water for fish in the backwater by the setu, seagulls and lapwings have started to come; also are seen green-winged big kingfisher and copper brown winged small kingfishers along the bank, thus increasing the number of fisher-bird community. This includes domestic ducks and sulking water-hens.

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On an early-morning after-archana walk in the college campus, within 20 minutes you will see or hear at least one dozen kinds of birds every day. Tree-pies and drongos, bulbuls and colourful bee eaters perch with unity on the top twigs of the lone bamboo bush in the university. Any number of babblers will have spoken to each other about your regular walk looking for bird-friends. Though the egrets and herons are silent as ever, they maintain prominence what with their snow-white large wings, and dramatic landing pattern.

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The three owls –owlets till last month- have stopped calling as they are now able to take to wings at dusk, and the juice stall and book stall area is now rid of their intermittent QQQQfffff’s.

- Sandhya

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Things are Heating Up

Warm weather is finally here in Chandrapuri, bringing with it a flurry of activity. The government seems to have realized that monsoon season is quickly approaching. Road construction is going on everywhere, finally with heavy equipment and an influx of new Indian workers. Our construction has picked up again too with the arrival of two experienced supervisors from Kerala, Shiva Das and Ramakrishna. Nine houses have now been bricked to a level above the doors.

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Today was “all hands on deck” as we carried pans of sand and gravel to mix the concrete by hand. Once started, we can not stop. The entire form must be filled in one continuous pour for maximum strength.

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Today we learned about lentels. No, not lentil as in dahl. You know the concrete shelf above the windows in most of the ashram flats? That is a lentel and it has a function besides storing unwanted items. It is the band of steel reinforced concrete providing needed strength to brick construction. This is what will give our houses earthquake resistance.

-Scotti

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