6.30am I arrived in Bogadi. The sun was yet to rise and I’m already sitting, waiting to see the famous Amma - ‘Mother of the World’. It was recommended by another yoga student, who met Amma last year, I arrive early as I needed to get a token to see Amma. Knowing there would thousands of people here to see her today, and finding out she will be giving hugs until about 1.00am the following morning, I decided I would take the advice and come ultra early. Let’s just say, that advice was not exactly correct. But I will come the that in a bit. Surprisingly, there were large numbers of people beginning to arrive at this crazy time also - for Amma and also other ceremonies which were to be completed prior to her arrival at 11.30am.
Walking into a huge shed across the way from Amma’s temple and ashram, with blue time slip in hand (required before you can get a token - you exchange one for the other later in the day), I moved to the front where people were chanting a buddhist chant. The deep guttural sound of the 5 or so men on stage chanting was almost a little unnerving. One can certainly see how you can enter into a sort of hypnotic state whilst focusing on this one repeated sound.
A group of helpers were working to place mini ceramic bowls full of oils, incense and other small offerings onto each chair for the next ceremony which was to take place. The poonja (I think). As I was coaxed into paying to attend this ceremony, I sat with my little chair of offerings in front of me and decided to join in. I had no idea what was being said, but by copying what others were doing, I was able to follow along. Each item on my chair had a special purpose: I circled the flame in the oil around my chest and head three times, then the leaf with a small offering was circled around my crown three times, I dipped my small leaf into the single pot of oil and dripped this into the top of the terra cotta pot about 50 times (as this was done in time with a chant they repeated over and over), I near set myself on fire when I lit the little kerosene cube (which had a dangerous resemblance to a sugar cube), and then coated my entire body in the smoke of the burning incense stick and fumes from that little sugar cube. At other times I stood and turned in circles three times. Why? I don’t know?
To complete the ceremony, everyone carried their little terra cotta pot in their right hand on top of their head to Amma’s temple across the way. In a line of about 500 or so people, it took a while before I reached the temple to do whatever it was people were doing with their pots. With shoes off, I eventually entered the small temple steps where I then had a better view of what was going on. Inside the temple, on a small platform, men dressed in white linen robes were throwing the water of all the pots onto a statue which sat in the middle of the platform. It was a little dark in there and I couldn’t see what the statute was. All I knew is it was something important to all these people so I was happy to respect the tradition and offer my bowl of water and oil to the shrine also.
People were pushing their way through to have their pots taken from them and offered to the God within (I’m assuming), so I learned early on this morning that it’s important to be a little pushy also. Otherwise, I’m getting nowhere! As I walked out of the temple area I was sprinkled with water from the bristles of a tree branch, handed a small edible offering (which i haven’t dared eat), and given some die to put on my forehead. Quite an experience.
With hours to kill until Amma arrived, I decided to find a toilet. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of traditional Indian style toilets…. Not only is it a hole in the ground, but it’s like a bath in there. I nearly died when I saw women walking in bare foot. Oh, it’s a different world to what I know. Not saying mine is better - I just know this isn’t exactly a comfortable experience. But, it’s an experience nonetheless!
I sat in the isle where Amma would walk as she enters the huge shed turned temple we were in. In preparation for Amma’s arrival, a human barricade of people holding hands was created - about 70 or more metres at least. I was a part of this barricade, and found it to be quite a fun experience. The excitement in the room was beginning to grow. We were, however, holding hands for about 30 minutes prior to her arrival as I think someone got over excited and gave the cue a little early! And then before we knew it, surrounded by another barricade of people all dressed in white, Amma powered past me headed for the stage.
Sitting on a round pedestal on stage, Amma opened the session with one hours worth of singing. The first three songs were really exciting for me, but then it just became quite tiring to listen to. I was starting to dwindle by this point as I had already been there for over 6 hours. Next came another two or so hours of preaching (which I didn’t understand a word of) followed by meditation. Although I appreciated being in Amma’s presence, I was a little over it by this time. The ceremony seemed to go on forever. I was also a little concerned I was going to be one of the poor people who has to wait until 1.00am the next day for my moment with Amma. For as it turns out, there was no need to come early and get a ticket. There was no order whatsoever when it came to exchanging the ticket for the token. Ridiculous.
When that time did come (to get my token - which is a letter and number of the alphabet, e.g. B5), the entire place erupted into a mosh pit of people scrambling to find one those men who were handing out the tokens. It really was a matter of first in best dressed with getting a token. But then I noticed the people handing them out were selectively giving people tokens in the Z category or the G category - whatever they felt like it seemed! The Z people will be there all night.
With my new skills of pushing, I pushed my way through masses of crazy people to a man who eventually agreed to exchange my ticket. I ended up with G1. I was devastated. This meant I was going to be there for another 3-4 hours waiting for my hug. This would not do. So, in Indian fashion, I asked around about how to exchange this token for one which was earlier in the queue. Although told I could not change it, I was determined to find a way. I was directed to a man in an orange robe who was a helper of Amma’s. I explained I had been at the temple since 6.30am this morning and would really appreciate if there was a way to see Amma sooner. After some clarification of what I was asking, (as I think the man was originally trying to pretend like he didn’t know what I was saying), he exchanged my token for C5. Magic! I was instantly taken into the queue and within 30 minutes my face was in Amma’s breasts!
The chaos surrounded Amma up on stage. She had many helpers around her, which made this confined space that much more overwhelming. But the energy getting close to Amma was incredible. Knowing I was finally going to meet this woman, even though just for a moment, was certainly exciting and a little nerve racking. I noticed she hugged some people ever so briefly whilst others she would hold tightly, almost appearing as though they were being suffocated. Whilst holding people she would be talking to her helpers before kissing the hugged person on the head and sending them on their way.
After having my forehead patted down to remove any sweat before hugging Amma, a man in an orange robe to Amma’s left (my right) asked what language I spoke. I’m not sure why as it made no difference to how I was spoken to? Then, before I knew it, I was suddenly grabbed from behind the head by Amma herself and pulled into her right breast. And there I stayed for the next 20-30 seconds or so. I’m not sure why she held me for so long, but it was certainly nice to have the extra attention.
The gift Amma gave me: A little lolly and some red dye. I’m also holding flowers a helper gave me which Amma had touched and used in her
Amma’s hug was not what I expected. She smelled of fresh flowers and her clothes were soft silk. She held my head tightly toward her and in those moments I knew no one could touch me. I was a little awkward though. I wasn’t quite sure where to put my hands, whether to put more weight toward her… I was a little overwhelmed really. I began creeping my arms around her plump waist and returned the hug. But again, I was a little unsure what to do! I was also expecting to be pushed away sooner but I kept hearing her muffled voice, as my ears were squished, talking to the people around her. Was she aware I was down there? Or was the conversation more important? Was she talking about me? Who knows? After this short while she then pulled me slightly away from her chest, whispered something into my right ear in Hindu (I’m assuming), kissed my head and then released me. I was then just another one of the masses of people trying not to fall over the thin railing of the stage as people pushed their way to her.
One of Amma’s helpers, a Frenchman who I met during the ceremony, ushered me to go and sit on the stage behind Amma for sometime. To take in the energy from there. So I did. It was a much calmer feeling being behind Amma, knowing i didn’t have to wait until the early hours of the morning to see her and could now just observe. I watched on for about 20-30 minutes or so before it was time to allow others to sit on the stage also. I also had a chance to watch some young children perform traditional Indian dances on the other side of the stage, which was quite beautiful to see.
After all of this, I was ready for home. Starving and in need of a toilet, a western toilet preferably, it was time to go.
Upon reflection of today, of course I am glad I went. It was an experience like no other. What I feel is unfortunate, however, is how people are treating Amma as though she is God herself. I don’t think this is how she sees herself at all but the followers look to her as though she is this divine, supernatural power. In my opinion, this almost weakens her teachings. I can relate to the human but not the God, if that makes any sense?
Essentially, Amma preaches that people must look within to know thy Self. That there is nothing external which will ever help someone to achieve this knowledge, and if we rely on the external world then we shall always suffer from unhappiness. Love and compassion is another big concept she preaches about. But supernatural powers are not who or what she is. Not from what I could gather. Yet so many westerners (who made up 70% or more of her helpers today) seem to kiss the floor she walks on, looking to her in this way. I respect this powerful woman for the messages she is bringing to the world. Good messages full of truths. But, I cannot look at her like she is a Goddess. Should I? Am I missing something? I feel I can appreciate her teachings without having to become completely obsessed by her unlike so many others - so it seems. Each to their own I guess.
So, if ever Amma is in town and you want to go and see her, my recommendation is to arrive just prior to the ceremony, get your ticket and then brace yourself for the moment when you exchange your ticket for a token. Use elbows if needed, because I can guarantee everyone else will be!
Thank you Amma for our moment today. It was one which will remain with me for a lifetime.
Much love. Jessica.