Four years ago, during my first trip to India, I heard about the "hugging saint" a lovely Indian lady guru called by her followers "Amma" (Mother) who would just sit down and give hugs to hundreds of people each day, a hug that according to her disciples can open your heart and awaken the spiritual energy dormant within ourselves. This is called Amma's Darshan and believe it or not she has been given it for about 30 years already embracing about 26 million people!
Image courtesy of Wikipedia CC BY 2.0
I was very intrigued and thought about visiting her ashram to receive the darshan once. I read a book with some of her thoughts and felt very identified with her teachings. Finally, after the one month training at the Sivananda Ashram, I had the oportunity to visit her ashram.
I had to choose between staying one week at Varkala Beach to enjoy the sun, the sea, delicious sea food and the company of my new yogi friends or to go to Amma's ashram. I decided to stay only one night at Varkala and then go to Amma's. I think it was the best choice though it was very tempting to stay longer at Varkala with my friends. Luckily I was still able to enjoy the company of some of my yogi friends that also decided to visit Amma's Ashram
Visiting Amma's Ashram in Amritapuri
The experience was completely different to what I expected. I had the idea that it would be a very hectic place with thousands of people lining up and pushing each other to receive Amma's darshan. I thought there would be lots of fanatics and that the place would be like a big bazaar with people taking advantage of Amma's presence to try to make some bucks. Well, that's what I had heard from other travelers.
I was actually surprised to see how organized the darshan was. You just need to get a token and come back later around the time that your number would be called while Amma is just sitting there and given the darshan non stop, sometimes even more than 20 hours straight! I went for the darshan four times in four different days and I never had to wait more than 20 minutes, and they even give you a chair so you can sit down instead of just waiting standing up. I'm sure that was Amma's idea, she is always caring about her "children".
There were hundreds of people at the Ashram, perhaps one thousand, but it didn't feel hectic at all, everybody is busy doing their seva (selfless work) and all the people that I met were really nice. It is actually an excellent place to meet other "spiritual travelers" with similar interests. And yes, there are some shops around but they are useful and necessary.
The ashram is huge, more like a small city with one huge apartment building with 15 floors and several other smaller buildings so it is natural that you'll need a mini-market where you can buy all the necessary stuff. There is also an ayurvedic shop, a juice stand and a western and an Indian canteen where you can buy really cheap food in case you are not satisfied with the "free" Indian food which is included in the 150 Indian rupees that you need to pay for accommodation! Isn't that cheap? I think so!
|Entrance to Amma's ashram|
Receiving Amma's hug
I guess you are asking yoursefl.. "Well, how was it? How did you feel after the hug?" I have asked that same question to every person that I've met who had received the darshan.
Everybody experience is different and people say that it all depends on how open your mind and your heart are. Some people are totally transformed and some others feel nothing at all. Unfortunately I belong to the second group, though I did my best to stay open.
She was very tender and at every hug that I received she embraced me for quite a long time repeting words that I didn't understand. But besides feeling her sweetness and tenderness I didn't had any transcendental experience and this makes me feel a bit dissapointed with myself... "what am I doing wrong?".
Ok, perhaps is my expectation of an experience that doesn't allow me to be present and completely open. I could even say that I have a deeper experience when I hug a dear friend of mine. Some people said that though I might not feel anything special there is certainly a transformation going on without me even noticing it. I haven't notice any change yet but I'll keep my mind open.
Amma's Arathi: prostrations at the feet of the guru
One of the things that impressed me the most during my stay at the ashram was the Arathi ("offering the light of enlightenment", circulating the arthi plate with a lighted lamp in front of the deity) and the Pada Puja (pada: feet; puja: worship, worship of the feet of the deity).
At the Sivananda Ashram we would do at the end of each Satsanga the Arathi towards the images of Siva, Sivananda and Vihshnudevananda, same rituals performed in hindu temples towards the Gods images, but in this Ashram these ceremonies were done directly to Amma. We would sing the Arathi song to Amma and in some days the devotees would do the milk offering as part of the Pada Puja to her feet.
This reminded me one of those old videos where a swami disciple of Swami Sivananda was doing the Pada Puja to the feet of Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh. This made me realize the magnitude of Amma, what she actually represents to her devotees, she is considered a Sat Guru, a real Guru. A Guru is not just a spiritual master but a fully realized being that has reached perfect union with the Supreme, or in other words it is the Supreme Consciousness incarnated in a physical body.
The teachings of Amma
These are some of my favorite Amma's quotes:
"The Soul is God. True austerity is to perform our actions with an unbroken awareness of God"
"God-realization and Self-realization are the same thing. To be God-realized is to have a heart so expansive that you love everything and everyone equaly"
"Anger is the enemy of every spiritual aspirant. Anger causes loss of power through every pore of the body"
"It is good to cultivate the habit of thinking that your pen, books, clothes, vessels and work tools are imbued with the Divine presence, and to consequently use everything with care and respect. Touch each object with reverence before picking it up, this will help you to maintain a constant remembrance of God. As others observe your actions, they too will be inspired to fallow this practice"
"Sitting in meditation with your eyes closed is not enough, perform your actions with an attitude of worship. You should be able to experience Gods presence everywhere. That is real meditation"
If you need more information about Amma's ashram in Amritapuri you can continue reading below
About the Ashram
Receiving mantra initiation
About the food
About Amma's Ashram in Amritapuri, Kollam
The ashram is located in a beautiful and relaxed area next to the backwaters. It is quite a big place, like a colony. In a way it reminded me the movie of Leonardo DiCaprio "The Beach". On one side there is a beach and on the other side the back waters. You can take a small canoe or cross the bridge built by Amma by foot to cross to the small village.
|Bridge built by Amma|
|Beach next to Amma's ashram|
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Ashram daily activities
The Ashram is organized very differently compared to the Sivananda Ashram. There is a daily schedule but you are free to decide not to join any of the activities at all and do whatever you want although you should certainly volunteer to do some Seva. You can go out of the ashram at any time but they do expect you to be back by 18.30 for security reasons I believe. All the people that I met were always following at least some of the activities from the daily schedule.
04.50 to 06.30 Daily Bajans
06.30 to 07.30 Meditation at the Beach
09.00 to 10.00 Seva
13.00 to 14.00 Lunch
17.30 to 18.30 Meditation at the beach
18.30 to 20.00 Bajans
20.00 to 21.00 Dinner
22.30 Lights out
Yoga and Meditation courses at Amma's ashram
There are also many additional activities apart from the daily schedule like Hatha Yoga classes or meditation courses. I heard about a 2 weeks intensive yoga course with two sessions of asanas a day and with philosophy which cost around 300 US dollars.
During my stay I managed to follow the free 2 days intensive course on meditation to learn the phase 1 of the I AM Technique (Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique). This technique was introduced by Amma herself. It seems to me a very advance technique. It starts with some very slow physical exercises that helps to calm down the mind, bring awareness and expands lung capacity. Then it continues with some respiratory exercises and chackra visualizations exercises and even spinal breathing. The whole practice takes 30 minutes and it is meant to be done only once a day. For more information go to www.iam-meditation.org
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Receiving mantra initiation
If you are a devotee of Amma you might be interested in receiving mantra initiation directly from her. This is the process as explained by one of my roommates. When you go for the darshan then you need to tell her "Amma, mantra" then she will give a sign to one of the swamis and they will ask to wait for a while. The swami will ask you what sort of mantra you want, with form (saguna) or without form (nirguna) and then Amma will tell you directly which is your mantra. back to top
About the food
A simple Indian breakfast, lunch and dinner is included in the accommodation price but if you are not satisfied you can also pay for the Indian canteen or western canteen. They always have really nice home made cakes and biscuits. There is a Juice stand where you can buy fresh juice or shakes, fruits and some biscuits. The only problem that I see is trying not to eat too much :-P All the people that I met were really satisfied with the food, though the Indian food was a bit too spicy. back to top
For more information you can visit the following links to the ashram website
How to reach the ashram
About the Ashram
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