“Please don’t pet or feed dogs and animals”. It is a sign that you will see when you visit Amritapuri. Yes, we do love and care for animals, but the ashram is not a place for animal care. By not feeding and petting them we make them understand that it is not a place where they are encouraged to build their needed attachments/family security.
But during her childhood and teenage years, Amma did have a best-friend dog, which would stay by her side at all times. A big black and white dog, which would faithfully protect her when she meditated by the ocean at night, and would carry food for her in the morning. This special black and white dog was Amma’s closest companion for many years.
If you had visited the ashram from the late eighties till 6 or 7 years ago, you would maybe remember ‘Kaiser’, Amma’s father’s dog. Kaiser lived a long life, and during his times no other dog would dare enter the ashram premises. Patrolling his territory 24 hours a day, he kept a watch on keeping away any unwanted presence. Boosted with self-confidence, his territory had expanded to part of the Vallickavu village. He would hop up on one of the jetty boats to mark his territories on the other side, and hop up back on another boat to come back when he wished to! Even when he got old and weak and walked slow, Kaiser kept up faithfully with his duties.
Shortly after Kaiser’s passing away, a young puppy showed up one day at the ashram and quickly made his way to become the ashram’s watchdog and a friend of Amma. Tumban has been a well-known figure in Amritapuri for the last 5 years or so, and is always seen by her side during meditation times.
A couple of years later, a female dog imposed her presence around Amma too, as a Tumban helper. Maybe because she looked so much like Tumban, people confused her with him. Bhakti slowly became a regular visitor to Amma’s own room, and forced Tumban to share his special status. When Tumban got into a serious fight with outside male dogs few months ago, suffering serious injuries, his self-confidence and ardour were broken, so Bhakti took over now the leading role as the ashram’s territory main protector. She surely does an excellent and vigilant job… and has the most endearing eyes when she meets one of us, her human ‘family members’.
Last December, one good day, a young puppy that had been born at the Ayurveda beach walked coolly to the ashram and headed straight for Amma’s room!! A black and white puppy!!! He did that for the next few days. When Amma saw him, she asked that he be allowed to come regularly to the room and very soon, the little cute being considered that Amma’s room was his too and decided to spend the nights there…
Amma named him “Rishi”. An ashramite, familiar with raising dogs has been assigned the duty to take care of Rishi, and she has disciplined him to visit Amma’s room only at given times. Rishi has a very gentle temperament. He is never bothered by what is happening around him. His attention is fully absorbed by what he is sniffing and discovering at a particular moment. A perfect example of living in the moment, with presence and innocence! Bhakti has accepted Rishi’s presence with love and patience. Tumban has mixed feelings. He ‘tolerates’ Rishi’s unconsciousness but just to some extent. If Rishi takes too much freedom in trying to get Tumban’s attention and play, Tumban needs to send a brief growl or bark to make himself understood. Rishi immediately backs off. Nothing is a problem for him: there are tons of other games and discoveries to indulge in, every moment…
When we left for the 2-week Kerala tour in February, Rishi was still just a cute endearing puppy, so we were all surprised when we came back and saw that he had grown so much!! He had become a young adult dog! At first sight, many thought that it was another dog. Not cute little Rishi. Now, of course he still behaves as a mega-curious and happy puppy, but he is going to be a big size dog for sure.
The question is: Is Amma’s childhood big black and white dog back?
Is it who Rishi really is?