Years ago I ended up on a river boat in Kerala – India’s ‘Venice’ – and disembarked in Amritapuri to find Amma’s Ashram. I was traveling through India visiting various Ashrams without knowing much about the gurus beforehand. I visited Sai Baba who could change water to gold, the spiritual community of Auroville and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the southeast, and Osho’s Ashram near Pune. The guru I felt most connected to in the end was Amma (Mother).
My first night at the Ashram I experienced darshan (blessing) with Amma, which was a big hug where she whispered something in my ear in Sanskrit and made a short strong noise where the blessing seemed to enter me. I felt different afterwards in an unexplainable type of way. I was surprised not only by the temple full of those seeking blessings, but also to see the seemingly endless line of worshippers outside. When I went back to my room I had a bird’s eye view over the darshan line that slowly progressed throughout the night. I was astonished to realize that Amma only slept a couple hours a night and would stay until every person received darshan even if that was 5 a.m.
I stayed in one of the rooms for travelers with a few roommates who became good friends within days. The Ashram itself was a great place for seekers because there were so many open-minded people there. Aside from spending time meditating in the temple there was a small café where a lot of interesting conversations started and you can help out around the Ashram with seva work (selfless giving). You can also take walks around this lush, tropical area and see astrologers, masseurs, and Auruvedic doctors. Upon leaving, I decided to travel on with one of my roommates for a while, so it’s also a great place to meet up with other travelers.
Since my time in India I’ve tried to see Amma when she comes through my area, so on her latest tour of the US I was thrilled to receive darshan again. Seeing Amma in the US is very different than seeing her at her main Ashram in India. But Amma’s exploding popularity in the US and Europe means you’re less likely to find her in India. It is a much more controlled situation in the US, but I’d definitely recommend going out of your way to see her.
Whatever you do, get in line immediately to get a ticket for darshan. I made the mistake of going to get dinner first at the nice vegetarian café volunteers set up for all the followers. Then we headed down to the huge hall where she was to appear and the line stretched throughout it. We were given various colored stickers indicating whether we’d already seen her this year and when we reached the front of the line we received a number. Our number was such that we’d have to wait 4-5 hours even though we’d arrived before she was scheduled to appear.
Amma entered the hall full of devotees and admirers and the whole hall buzzed with energy. Then we all chanted and she gave a short talk before the darshan began. There were lots of things going on for the long wait – tables with Amma’s books, pictures, and other things to purchase as well as info about projects and organizations doing volunteer work, etc. But the majority of the time was spent sitting in the long lines of chairs watching the numbers slowly turned over by volunteers.