A (not so) typical day at the Ashram, Amritapuri, Kerala, India

A (not so) typical day at the Ashram, Amritapuri, Kerala, India

Pictures at always at the end of the post

3am – wake up from a bunch of bells going off.

4am – wake up by a bunch more bells going off. Try to go back to sleep in your prison like room (at least it’s a private and it has a view of the ocean), but the crow screeches through the open window and the waves crashing on the beach let you assume there’s a big storm (nope just crazy waves here), so you get up.

4.50am – Archana! If you are female, join the white robed women in the Kali Temple for an hour of chanting Lalita Sahasra Nama, if you are male do the same thing in a different place – because strict gender separation! Try to stay awake and not fall asleep between the white-robed swaying to their chants.

6.00am – have a small chai tea break, with cups from a big container that are still wet. Receive your tea from gender-separated lines. Half the people cheat by bringing their own big thermos and fill it up all the way. This is the reason communism doesn’t work, because why should YOU be the one receiving equal…that’s just for everybody else, because YOU are special!

6.30am – join the white robed followers on the beach, because Amma suggests you spent 3 hours a day meditating. And if you are not into meditation you do 30 sets of sun salutation, because you were taught that at some point and you desperately try to look like you know what you are doing. Amma says be present in the moment, but in the moment just means inside your own head with closed eyes. Definitely don’t watch the beautiful sunrise over the ocean or the fishermen doing their daily work. Also Amma says it is very dangerous to interact with the locals, so only buy things inside the Ashram and don’t talk to anyone (btw she was born here so what kind of betrayal is that to her own people!?)

9am – when you finally really believe that you are going to starve after so many hours without food, go get breakfast with your plate from the big wet container. Receive a bowl full of water-rice and a splash of curry (I name it water rice, because it is normal rice, except they decided not to drain the water after cooking, so everything on your plate goes swimming). Wash your plate at the big basin afterwards and just throw the wet bowl back into the container after.

9.20am – if you want some vitamins now, go to the juice counter. But make sure that you FIRST buy your token using the Q System (Amma says you should) and then go to a different counter and receive your juice.

9.30am – take a class in Meditation inside the Kali Temple. Which starts with very slow Yoga that is explained to you 4 times before you perform it yourself. While you get bored you realize that the white-robed ones have a blank stare on their face and trouble to comprehend the instructions. Their face only lights up when we learn that you should roll over your right side to get up, it is good for the heart, the instructor thinks, well he doesn’t really know – but Amma said we should do it, so it must have some purpose, even if you don’t understand, just follow what Amma says.

11am – after 2 hours in which the slow pace only allows you to do 10 yoga exercises, watch somebody white-robed run into the temple and yell that Amma says she needs the temple, and can you please hurry up leaving it!? Pack your stuff; the class is cancelled for the rest of the day, even though only 2 of 8 hours are completed. Ask with a dumb face what is happening, and find out that Amma is “keeping us on our toes” and that’s why she randomly decides 100 people have to cancel their class. But the white-robed ones think it’s a nice surprise, so how can you be mad?

11.10am – watch a mass confusion break loose, as nobody knows what is happening, because Amma decides as she goes. And when it turns out she does her famous darshan everybody starts pushing and crying and trying to get their hands on a token (darshan is a blessing, which means in Amma’s case a hug, which she is very famous for, she has hugged about 34mio people on earth).

11.15am – don’t really know how to get your hands on a token because her handlers only push you out of their way, but somehow you manage and wait in line. Look over at Kevin on the men’s side and see he managed too!

11.45am – Amma’s helpers come and sell expensive candy or flower necklaces to you, which you can then donate to Amma. Huh? Good way to make money. Sell people stuff that they give back to you 5 Minutes later…

12am – Watch a bunch of people come back from their darshan. Some are barely able to walk, tears streaming down their face. Hear everybody whisper in awe, what a “god-conscious-being” Amma is. Apparently she looks you right into your soul and then she gives you a healing hug.

12.10pm – when it is finally my time, Amma’s handlers wash my face with a piece of toilet paper that they’ve used on 15 women before me (eew!). Then another helper asks me which language. I answer german, but have no time to be confused. As one helper takes my hands and pushes it into the throne Amma is sitting on, another hand puts my arm around Amma and yet another pushes my head into her chest. I wait for Amma to look deep into my soul, but she doesn’t look at me at all. She gently hugs me and whispers into my ear – hey in german! Then it is all over and I don’t know what the fuss is all about…I try to read meaning into what she said, but I’m just too confused.

12.10pm – on a Tuesday however, Amma would never do Darshan. Because nothing happens on a Tuesday. On a Tuesday you would also not visit meditation class, because nothing happens on Tuesday. But Tuesday you spent 2 hours after breakfast chanting the 108 names of Amma, and the 1000 names of somebody else. The women sit on the right and the men on the left. And if you are a couple you can sit on the left – but only on the chairs, not on the floor. The white-robed blank-stares people will chase you away for sure.

Then Amma gets carries into the hall and you meditate with her. Except at 3000 people living in the Ashram at all times and all the tourists, a lot of coughing, shuffling and what not sounds, it’s pretty hard to focus. So just watch everybody else instead. After some time the meditation ends and Amma is handed a speech that she reads in Malayalam (local language) off the paper and then a translator asks if anyone has questions. A girl asks in English, she can barely contain her excitement, is on the verge of crying. Amma doesn’t respond in English. She answers in Malayalam and the translator uses so many metaphors that it’s exhausting to listen. Amma meanwhile seems to get really bored, so she starts munching something and scribbling on some paper. Oh, that’s just very sympathetic.

1pm- On a Tuesday Amma gives her famous Prasad, which is also a blessing, but one where you receive food – “from her own hand” as a follower who has been lost in the Ashram for 13 years tells us excitedly, and it is very special too!

We push into the line with a bunch of other people, and quickly Amma’s helpers separate me from Kevin again because gender! Some women push me around and yell at me that Amma only wants to see the men now. So I wait and read the big screen that says nobody is allowed to touch Ammas holy feet during Prasad, because that will slow down the process (!!!???)

Then Amma changes her mind and decides she wants the women now. So we get yelled at to move our butts and get pushed into four separate lines and everybody is pushing me around. I’m really confused by this behavior, because isn’t this an Ashram where everybody is mindful and respectful? I guess not when Amma is there, because then everybody thinks of them selves and how much they want to see Amma. Finally it is my turn and I see how a line of handlers gives plates to Amma, who gives them to us. Except she doesn’t really give them to us, she just pushes them over the counter and never even looks up once.

The good news is though that the lunch is much better and the rice is not swimming in water! This must be the reason why everybody loves when Amma gives Prasad.

2pm – Get some free time, you can take yoga classes (well just the women, because guys are somewhere else in the evening). And if you just sit around you will get bullied into doing seva (selfless service) because Amma says it is very good for your soul, so you can go fold some propaganda leaflets and feel like a real selfless hero.

3pm – you can spent some time going to the stores or visit the info desk or the gift shop – ok never mind, because all those things are open at certain times, and certainly never when you feel like going.

5pm – on your first day you can take a tour with a white-robed follower with a blank stare in his eyes. There are even so many people at the Ashram, you can take the tour in different languages. They show you how the Ashram works and show you a nice propaganda video with all of Amma’s amazing deeds.

6pm – go watch sunset at the beach and more people meditating and a crazy german guy who seems to be the only one having fun! Right after Kevin jokes that he could imagine Amma closing the beach because she needs it, a white-robed man comes to us and tells us Amma is closing the beach because she predicts very dangerous tidal waves. Nope this is not a joke, so you better hurry inside.

6.30pm – more Bhajans (that singing of the names).

8pm – if you stay awake during Bhajans you will be ready to jump in line for another included meal (yepp, with the fee for your stay (250Rs p.P/night) you get 3 free meals). The meal is more water-rice with a splash of curry. So if you are tired of eating the same free meal 3 times a day, you can go cheat and buy food at the western or Indian canteen!

8.30pm – have nothing to do but getting stung by mosquitos, so you quickly hurry into your room to take a shower (not sure if you get cleaner, because the water running from the shower is brown) and a few short hours of sleep before doing it all again the next day.

It surely were some crazy days at the Ashram, and we have not yet wrapped our heads around the craziness and the complete lack of own thoughts people seem to have. It just seems very far removed from the cultural experience we hoped to make, cos it’s mostly just a bunch of westerners following a religion they have not grown up with, so they seem awkwardly out of place. With constant meditation and quiet time, it seems like any kind of joy or energy is suppressed and only kept inside to you. It surely is the right thing for some people, but it certainly wasn’t for us, so I hope you will excuse my pretty negative blog… 😉

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