Sheela and her Mom greet our monks in Chennai last week

Sheela Venkatakrishnan and her Amma pose with our wandering monks in Chennai following the lunch they engineered, bringing together 20 of the artists and friends and pundits we work with all year long but seldom have a chance to be with in person. Thank you Sheela.

The Golden Temple of Vellore

Off our itinerant monks go to Sri Puram in Vellore, a citadel that arose in the early 90s from a 14-year-old boy's vision of the Goddess. The day was rich and over-rich. We were guided to the site of the original vision, a 6-foot-tall anthill in a village home, and then to the first temples that Shakti Amma built here, full of radiant and benevolent energies. Yogi Mayuranatha remarked he had never felt such a Kindly and gentle shakti from a deity.

Then off to the Golden Temple. Amma's devotees speak of this as "sugar-coated medicine," by which they mean Amma covered the entire temple in real gold to draw the world to the feet of Lakshmi Narayani. They come for the outer show but then leave with the inner glow, as Gurudeva would say.

It is a remarkable sight, a traditionally-designed temple floating in a pond in the middle of a vast garden. Their strict no photos policy does not allow us to share what we saw, but you can use Googlenatha to find images online.

Hundreds were waiting in long lines, but we were ushered down a special corridor to find ourselves seated before Sri Lakshmi Narayani and there we sat for the puja and stayed for a sweet meditation on the All and everything.

On our way out, they allowed us to pour water over the 70-kg solid gold Swarna Lakshmi. Then off to their newest Perumal Temple where we encountered a nine-foot-tall Vishnu with the sweetest smile ever seen in a murthi, something like the Ho Tei happy faces of Buddhism.

Our hosts took us to their old and new hospital facilities, an amazingly busy and high-tech healing center with 70 surgeons and 700 staff, outnumbered three to one by all the local people waiting for help with their issues. Never have we seen a hospital so full of people, in every hall and waiting room. The hospital here prides itself on providing world-class care at a fraction of the normal cost.

The highlight of the day was a long meeting with Shakti Amma. At Sadasivanathaswami's request, Amma spoke to the two yogis about Sannyas, with a profound emphasis on the mysteries of puja, yantra and tantra. Then off to the gardens where Amma is experimenting with growing tomatoes. Not in the ordinary way, but adding a special devi yantra to the soil and changing a bija mantram 108 times. Amma showed how a tomato grown this way is 5 times the size of an ordinary tomato.

Then to the goshala where Amma keeps 15 species of Indian zebu cows from all over the nation. There are hundreds here, so many each year Amma give 108 cows to temple and priests to help them spiritually and economically.

Then a short visit to the two elephants who enjoyed a mouthful of cookies.

After a festive guest-pleasing dinner (we counted 27 items on our banana leaf!), Amma invited us to the last puja of the day. It's amazing how central puja is here. From 4am to 10pm one follows another and we enjoyed Amma's final puja along with some 100 devotees.


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