Safe in Amma’s Arms

A survivor of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake shares her experience

My name is Laxmi. As a child, I lived with my family in Gujarat. On January 26, 2001, an earthquake hit our lives. I saw our apartment collapse right before my eyes. I could only see dust and debris everywhere. I heard a lot of people moaning and saw them running in search of their beloved ones. I was also among them, searching for my mother and my elder brother. Both of them were trapped in our apartment, which was then nothing but bricks and rubble. On that day itself, I lost both of them, as well as my home and my friends. Needless to say, for a 13-year-old girl, it was devastating.

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My father was not a witness to this incident. He was at work at the time witnessing another tragedy, the total destruction of his business. He did not know how to console me or himself, other than sharing this with our Amma. With everything in our lives destroyed, we travelled to Kerala and reached Amma’s ashram during the first week of February with the ashes of my mother and brother.{news} Amma called us into her room. She consoled us and she wiped away my tears. She hugged me and told me not to worry about anything, that she would always be with me. In that moment, I stopped feeling that I had lost my mother. I realized that Amma was the only one who could take away my sorrow. Amma discussed about my studies and decided to enroll me in Amrita Vidyalayam in Kodungallur. She told me that I could study in Amma’s institutions for as long as I needed. She told me that whenever I needed any clothes—or anything at all, for that matter—that I should just tell her.

All this time I was experiencing Amma’s vast love and compassion. A few months later, when the North Indian Tour came around, Amma asked me to come along so that I could continue to be near her during this critical time in my life. She made me realize that I was not alone.
Soon, my father went back to Gujarat in order to try to rebuild his business. And I continued my schooling. Since I had some difficulties with my academics in Kodungalloor, Amma suggested I attend the Amrita Vidyalayam Secondary School in Parippally. The school is located right next to the ashram’s Amrita Niketan orphanage. Many of the children who attend there live at Amrita Niketan and, therefore, have either lost their parents or were abandoned by them. Other students have parents who are financially unable to care for them. While I attended the school there, Amma told me that I should talk with the orphans and listen to their stories. This helped me to overcome my feelings and to understand that I was not the only person suffering. In fact, there are many kids in situations worse than mine.

After a year, something I never expected happened: my father re-married and informed via phone. At the time was finishing my 11th standard exams and was quite devastated. As I was still recovering from losing my mother and brother, his marriage really shook me. I went to share my feelings with Amma, but before I could even speak, she hugged me, wiped my tears and told me, “Dear daughter, don’t worry, Amma is always with you.” Her words gave me enough hope and confidence to move forward. Yes, Amma is there with me always.

When I finished my basic schooling, Amma encouraged me to get my BBM (Bachelor’s of Business Management) degree at the Amrita School of Arts & Sciences at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. Once, again, my education and accommodation were provided by Amma totally free of charge. With Amma’s grace and support, I successfully graduated.

After my graduation, I wanted to work for one of the ashram’s institutions, but, to my surprise, Amma instructed me to work outside. Since I believe that no place is safer than Amma’s ashram, I asked Amma many times, if I could please work at Amrita itself. However, Amma was particular that I should work outside. Amma told me, “My dear daughter, Amma wants you to work outside so that you will gain a better understanding about the outside world. I want you to be strong and independent.” Her words gave me strength and, with the confidence she had instilled in me, I soon found a job with a multinational company. When I first began working there, Amma advised me about my accommodation, my travel—even about day-to-day things. She also told me to save as much of my salary as I could for my future.

When I shared my wish to get engaged to the person of my choice, Amma called him and his family to discuss the matter, just like a girl’s parents do. Amma said that when we were ready, she would conduct the wedding for us. The happy day was today: May 13, 2014 during a public darshan. Sadly, my father was against the marriage and didn’t attend. However, Amma was my family support on this day.

After reaching the ashram, Amma lovingly called me and personally selected the ornaments and sari for the wedding. She attended to every detail just like my own family would. The ashramites took care of me and I felt like I was at home again. All the sadness of my father not being there was removed by the love and support of Amma and the ashramites.

The wedding was such a joyous occasion in my life. The whole ashram, Amma, the senior Swamijis and the ashramites showered us with blessings, best wishes and prayers. Traditionally, the father would take the daughter’s hand and placing it in the groom’s hand, give him the responsibility of his daughter. In my case, Amma who is the Universal Mother and Father, lovingly performed this rite, gave my hand to Bimal. After the wedding, Amma made an announcement requesting everyone present to pray for our family and to give their blessings for our new life. It was so touching for everyone present to witness the depth of Amma’s love and compassion; that even in starting a new married life, Amma was showering us with spiritual blessings. Amma even told us to take our honeymoon vacation in Singapore.

Amma has given me so much love and care that, even though I lost my biological mother, I have never felt alone. Every moment I feel Amma’s presence, and that gives me so much strength and happiness. Amma has transformed my life and the lives of so many others. All these experiences given by Amma has made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. They say that where there is love, that place is heaven on earth. This has been my experience: Yes, Amritapuri is the real heaven on earth.

Laxmi Soni
Amritapuri

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Posted in Darshan3 Comments

Bhakti Bhakti! Where had you been?

2 April 2014, Amritapuri

Since Thursday evening Bhakti’s mood is changed. When Amma was away on Ernakulam and Trissur tour till then, I saw her in forlorn mood, sitting just anywhere, and only raising brows to look up at anyone who called her, never raising the head. So forlorn!

Yesterday evening Amma arrived in the ashram. Near Her room, Amma got down the camper and walked in the direction of the steps, looking at Her human children throwing love glances at them. Just then down the steps from Amma’s room dashed out Bhakti, and ran straight into Amma with her special greeting sound: UuuuU! Obviously Bhakti was inside Amma’s room waiting for Her, but it was impossible to stay put there when she heard “Matarani Ki Jai” blasting the air, as people welcomed Amma. Amma had to stop there and give Her full attention to Bhakti who was twisting and twirling in joy to the accompaniment of everyone’s joyous surprise and her own Uuuuuu! Then, only after that, she ran upstairs like a good girl, and waited inside Amma’s room for Amma to finish with all others. That was for her share of special room darshan.

Today Amma started very early. Amma was visiting Devi temple about 2 kms away. Everyone was keen to go with Amma, and so, may be no one told Bhakti about it. May be Lakshmi akka was also busy, unpacking tour things and setting things for this early morning venture.
But she is as always quick to sense things. She was the playing the chief escort to Amma from Amma’s door.

After a while Bhakti remembered the previous day announcement that ashram residents should follow Amma. But Bhakti was walking ahead of Amma, through the flower petals the villagers offer to Amma on her waty to the temple.
When she came to the temple, Amma was received into the temple. I was standing away from the crowd for a while wiping my sweat. She came wagging her tail as if saying, “Look, I made it!” I tried telling her, “Don’t mind, Bhakti. You and I will wait here for Amma to finish and come out…” patting on her head. But then, “Please, don’t tell that to me,” her tail-end told me in my face as she left. She went inside the temple. She didn’t mind the newness of the place or people. She went round in the temple just as anyone of us participants. And more carefully, in the midst of the many pongala hearths.

Video: Bhakti joining with Amma for Pongala

 

We were all seated in the temple yard listening to Amma’s words of wisdom. She was speaking of the basic tenet of Sanatana dharma, to see God in every bit of creation. Everyone was listening with rapt attention. But one was there craving for Amma’s attention. As She spoke someone was disturbing her by touching her feet. She said in an aside that she should not be disturbed. But no human child around Her discovered who the culprit was. Amma looked down when the disturbance persevered. It was Bhakti. Gone under Amma’s chair from behind, so that no one noticed her! For a while Amma laughed and laughed at her kusuri- mischief; then Amma continued Her Satsang.

Then it was time for Amma’s departure. As Amma walked outside, Bhakti had quietly waited for Amma at the exit point so that when Amma left she got a place from where she could not be left behind. In the car with Amma!
Ask her, “Bhakti Bhakti! Where had you been?”
She might sing, “I had been to temple to see my Mother-Queen!”
- Sandhya

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Posted in AshramDiary0 Comments

Why don’t you stay close to me?

It was a beautiful Tuesday. As a person looking into setting up the audio setups every Tuesday, i had noted so many Amma’s children setting up a meditation spot near Amma’s peedam (seat). I had been tempted to set a position by putting up the meditation mat but had refrained many a times.

A few weeks ago, i went up early in the morning and placed a mat close to where Amma would sit and offer Satsang. However, as the time got closer, setting up the audio systems took up the focus and hence became busy. A western devotee came up looking for a spot. So i did go to him and indicated that he could take the spot and that the mat was mine. After that, Amma came, meditation took place. Its time for Q & A. Suddenly Amma called out “This mic has problems..” so i ran near to fix the microphone closer. Amma then looked and said “Here.. you need to stay here”.. pointing to my meditation mat which i had placed hours ago. Amma said “Why don’t you stay close to me?” with a smile.

Amma’s style is truly unique and as the 108 name goes – “sisya varya sabha madhya dhyana yoga vidhitsave namah”
-Kathick

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Posted in AshramDiary, Darshan2 Comments

A house for Vikram

We are building a new double house for Vikram on a steep slope, high above the river level. His house washed away in floods just ten months ago.
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Vikram, his wife Anita, and their two sons will live in one half while his parents and brother will live in the other half. It is common here for families to share a larger house, so nearly half of the homes we are building are double.

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Vikram is a hard worker, helping us with every phase of construction not only on his house, but helping to build for others as well.

- Scotti

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Posted in Disaster Relief0 Comments

Marriage in Batwadi

A wedding is one of the top expressions of Garhwali culture, bringing together large extended families, with good food and festivities. As a cultural experience, the wedding of Harish and Pria was a fascinating day. Yes, the bride was beautiful.

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However, as I look through the hundreds of photos I took of this event, I also see two scared children trying to trust that this rite of passage into adulthood will lead to a good life.

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Batwadi is a wonderful village, full of good hearted people who have already given much support to this family. Perhaps village life can provide the long term support these two young people will surely need.

May Amma also look after these children.

- Scotti

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Posted in General0 Comments

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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