Our four-hour drive to Vellore, half way to Chennai, was culminated in a rare hour with Shakti Amma, the creator of one of India's modern marvels, a golden temple, every pillar, every gopuram, every square millimeter is covered in real gold! Amma's temple was on the cover of Hinduism Today last year. After we had ventured through the Star Path which inculcates values to pilgrims, after we sat, just two of us, on a carpet in front of the main sanctum for a long puja at dusk (the crowds were kept some 40 feet away by guards, much to the dismay of one man), after we visited the hospital and the nursing school, the childhood home of her family, the Shanti Mandir where upadeshas are held, the amazing goshala where we saw cows of every shape and size and color, after we were fed with hospitality, finally we received a call: It was ten PM and Amma would see us now.
Off we drove, through a grove of trees to her cottage, nestled in a small forested area within the 100-acre compound, quiet and protected from the 25-50,000 visitors that come here daily. The day had ended. We had seen the doing, now to meet the doer, the force that began at age 17 to build this spiritual center and now, at 36, rules over institutions that have transformed this quiet corner of Tamil Nadu into a world-class spiritual destination.
We carried gifts from Kauai. A Rudraksha mala specially harvested from the finest (read largest) of our 300 trees, and a small tree for their gardens (Amma collects plants, many of them food-giving plants, from all over the world), a copy of The Guru Chronicles and more.
Amma was so curious about our life on Kauai: what is our daily schedule? what do we eat and when? how do we train the monks and how do they learn about and come to join the monastery? is it true we sleep in a forest guha on a plank? do we have cows? what kind? On and on the queries came.
A call went out for milk, laced with sweet herbs and slivers of almond nuts, warmed to perfection. Amma proved a deft conversationalist and a genial host, straightforward, insightful, fun to be with and talk to. When the cow discussion arose, Amma suddenly went into a lovely upadesha on the importance of the cow, and ghee and offerings to the devas. She noted that the devas, though greater than humans, are nonetheless dependent on humans, that the offerings received through the homa empower and feed the devas, and are essential to the balance of the universe. For the offerings, ghee is most important, and thus the cow takes prominence. The cow is to be revered (see our full post on the go puja Amma arranged for us to witness the next morning before our departure), let to know she is divine, and then her milk will be abundant and contain shakti.
The two Kauai travelers felt much at home with Amma, who gave us gifts as we departed and intimated she may be coming to Kauai in the not too distant future.