Well, vacation time is officially over and I am back in Trivandrum for my last day in India. My vacation was great. I stayed in Kochi for the majority of my trip but the visit to the ashram was definitely the most adventurous part of my entire vacation.
We travelled to this tiny, rural fishing in a town called Amritapuri. I don't think we quite knew what to expect other than doing a lot of yoga and meditation. It turns out that even our limited expectations proved to be fairly wrong. When we got there, we were quickly informed that Amma was not there (and continued to be informed of this fact by every person that we encountered thence forth). Not really knowing who this "Amma" person was other than the fact that the word Amma in Malayalam means "mother" we attempted to just go on with our lives and enjoy meeting the people that were there. People at the ashram, however, seemed distraught, even lost, on account of Amma's absence. Every conversation began and ended with some mention of Amma and how it was such a shame that we have never met her and how we were such good people for visiting the ashram despite this fact. Amma, it turns out, is a jolly Indian woman who hugs thousands of people a day and once sat in place for 20 hours straight, hugging people. People at this ashram worship her and claimed she was God in human form. In fact the ashram was covered with stickers and posters of her feet resting on a silver plate. Needless to say we were slightly concerned for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of her followers at the ashram. The ashram itself was essentially a small city surrounded by a rural village (actually it was the village that Amma grew up in). It has three huge high rise apartment buildings, each with 15 floors and at its peak, the ashram can accommodate up to 10,000 visitors. The sheer size of the ashram, especially considering it's humble surroundings, was impressive. Even more impressive were the views from our room on the 15th floor of our apartment complex. The complex is sandwiched between the backwaters and the Indian Ocean. It looks like a tropical paradise with palm trees stretching into the horizon and colorful fishing boats lining the waters below. With surroundings like this, it was difficult to be too disturbed by the ashram itself.
Each morning for the few days we were there, we would wake up at 4am and go to the main temple for the morning chanting session. The chanting session, which lasted about an hour and a half, consisted of a woman continually chanting the one thousand names of Shiva, a Hindu god. Being up that early and attending these chanting sessions was an amazing experience. I had never been up that early yet felt so refreshed. Aft the session, they served us chai and then we would head to the beach for morning meditation. This was definitely my favorite part of the day. We would sit there for about an hour in peaceful contemplation as the sun rose over the Indian Ocean. It was spectacular. For the rest of the day we would do a number of different chores around the ashram (including transporting large chunks of termite infested wood across the complex, yum) and meditate. I also tried to sneak in some photography, even though photography was illegal because they said it would ruin the sanctity of the ashram. My bad. But I took some pretty awesome pictures. Sanctity restoring even.
I leave for Beijing in a few hours. I may or may not have access to my blog account once I get there because apparently Blogspot is blocked by the Chinese government. As is Facebook. So if I don't update for a while you'll know what happened. Uh oh....