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Saint of the Backwaters

Saint of the  Backwaters
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Journalism is one profession which lets you break away from the monotony of fixed working hours and necessity of staying put at one spot. This dynamism actually had me going when a trip to Kerala was offered and I grabbed  the chance like a baby.

Purely connoting the thrilling mix of work with pleasure, the three-day tour centered on the world-renowned spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, popularly known as the ‘hugging saint’, whose 60th birth anniversary was being marked with festivities.

Ironically, till the time I boarded the flight, I kept speculating on the word saint, since I had absolutely no idea about its possible implications. The apprehensions multiplied because of the recent Asaram case and I kept wondering if I were going to be part of something similarly uncouth.
After approximately four hours of tiresome flight (via Mumbai), I landed in Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram airport to be precise. The cab booked by the organisers took us to the ashram which was located in coastal Kollam district of South Kerala.

Luckily, I managed a window seat and started absorbing the sceneries to get my imagination rolling. ‘I see the sea with palm and coconut trees’ – is what I wrote to the best of my creative capabilities during that three-hour long road travel from the airport.

Finally I found myself at Amritapuri- an ashram complex with an adjacent university, lining a green stretch along the coast in south Kerala’s Kollam district. One look and it seemed like an entire intercity inside the major city.

As customary as it could get, I was advised to go and meet Amma ji and get that ritual hug to start off with my assigned work. So I headed to where she sat inside a huge auditorium-like hall. People gathered around craving for her one glance and if they got lucky, then a long hug. I was in utter shock and surprise to witness such insanity and desperation for her (blame it on Asaram scandal).
My chance for ‘spiritual revival’ finally arrived. As she brought me closer to her, I sniffed sandalwood fragrance as she chanted some mantra into my ears. That was it! I was mesmerised, totally lost in her motherly aura and shed a tear or two of mixed emotions. I think this is what they call- pure bliss! Day 1 ended with some maggi and fruit juice dinner and straight away headed to hotel for some sleep and to gear up for the coming long heavy days of work.

Day 2 began early in the morning (quite an exception for a person like me who does not wake up just an hour before noon time). I had to actually wake up and get ready by 9 am to reach the ashram and participate and cover the activities marking the celebrations.

I reached the ashram and was introduced to the concerned members of the organisation, including the ashramites and other devotees. Never before had I seen such divine faith and belief for Amma ji and her humanitarian works. Spirituality, culture, science and service is what objectively defined each one present at and involved with the ashram. I witnessed the amalgamation of different religions, ethnicities and even nationalities.

The event commenced with a few words by Swami Amritawarupananda Puri, the vice-chairman of the MAM’s board of trustees who retold the achievements of the iconic figure (Amma ji) and her decades of service, love, compassion and selflessness. The total strength of her devotees and visitors was estimated to be around 5,00,000 at the convention.

The dignitaries at the sprawling venue alongside the backwaters of scenic Vallikavu village included former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam, Kerala, chief minister Oommen Chandy, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna, besides a string of state governors and ministers of central and Kerala governments. In the midst of this hustle bustle, a massive Sri Chandika Yagnam (holy fire) for world peace and harmony was performed by a group of pandits.
Other announcements and unveilings by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM) included developments in cancer research by the Amrita Centre for Nanosciences and Molecular Medicine, a new tablet-based learning programme for literacy called Amrita RITE and a clutch of exciting online innovations for the benefit and protection of society.

An international summit titled ‘Our Villages, Our World: What Can We Offer?’ was held at the Amritapuri Campus of Amrita University. The inaugural function commenced with the addresses by Kalam, eminent scientist MS Swaminathan and Noble laureate Dr. Leland H. Hartwell.

It also saw the participation of many other renowned scholars, senior government officials, business leaders, environmentalists, scientists and educationalists. The main project unveiled this year was the MAM (Mata Amritanandamayi Math) programme to adopt 101 villages across India, with the intention of making them self-reliant role-model villages, launched on 27 September.

By the day end, I also had the chance to experience the bhajan sessions conducted by Amma ji herself, which got all those present there involved and transcended to estcatic levels.

Last day of my trip and how could it go without a personalised hug and meeting the ‘hugging saint’ once again. So the same old fashion of joining the queue and waiting for your chance began. As I began to get nearer, I had a bout of happy and unhappy emotions. Amma ji at last hugged me and though she only spoke in Malyalam with me, I still understood her love and care.

And why not, doesn’t love have one universal language in any case?
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