[This was written in October 2003, soon after Amruthanandamayi’s fiftieth birth day celebrations in Kochi. In comparison the sixtieth birthday celebrations, despite the participation of Modi, was a low key affair and mostly confined to her Mutt in Vallikavu. With the publication of Holy Hell, authored by her one-time Australian disciple, Amma seems to be in be drifting into a phase of deep turbulence.]
Amrthavarshm-50 was grand. I watched for three days and spent more than eight hours wondering at the throbbing crowds on move. Variety of VVIPs honored themselves by participating. Media glowed with the spiritual message of Amma for one full week. No dissent was heard anywhere. Everything was clockwork and Amma had a virtual cakewalk. Everybody was in praise of everything, something unprecedented for in Kerala, for an event of such magnitude.
Amma was for all religions, all castes and all ideologies. One Caste One Religion One God theme of Narayana Guru sounded war cry, in the backdrop of Amma’s cry for love and understanding. Compared to Amrithavarsha 50, the oncoming 150th Jayanthi of Narayana Guru will end up as damp squib; followers are on war path and babbling diverse tongues.
Sankara never had a birthday; historians guess him to have lived from 788 and 820 AD. Like Amma, Sankara began his mission quite young, and as a child of eight left his widowed mother in pursuit of knowledge. Traveling length and breadth of India, he defeated Mimamskas and Buddhist philosophers in intellectual combats and established four Hindu mutts, for which he was branded Buddha in disguise.
Unlike Amma, Sankara was a Namboodiri and died quite young at thirty two, an intellectual giant and exponent of advaita, the most brilliant of monistic philosophies, constructed ever by human intellect. For Sankara, everything was Maya and truth was beyond cognition. Born into a lower caste, Amma belongs to the material world, her lap is tangible and easily accessible. She has a socialist mask and sounds typical down-to-earth people’s God.
Amma has no intellectual pretensions. Interviews published in leading newspapers vouch for this. She described her previous birth as a canceled cheque. As to what she would like to be in next birth, Amma sounded far more serious: no time to worry about that, life is short and atman has neither birth nor death. Coming to the economics of her Ashram she was even more down to earth: “My followers are mostly poor, some fast on Saturdays and brings the savings to the Ashram, whose inmates work hard to make flowers, photos, camphor or stich clothes. They all work hard, eighteen to twenty hours a day. Malayalees work hard when they go out. Within Kerala work-hours decrease and we dig our own graves.”
Amma vehemently denies the suggestion that, she collects money from the rich, like Rajanish and others who run Ashrams as corporate enterprises. She seems to believe that, enterprises of her own Ashram are financed entirely by the surpluses from hard work or frugal savings of its inmates. Ashram engages the best of professionals, chartered accountants and tax experts, who re-assure her on this point. A village school dropout at ten, Amma had very little formal education when she took to spiritual practice; business management is Greek and Latin to her.
Amma hails from my village, and her Ashram is just three kilometers away from my ancestral home. The imposing structures of her Ashram were built recently. She had a small practice in her modest parental house close by, where she used to live, attending to small local audiences until late eighties. Sudha Mony was thirty-two, when name-change was advertised in a local newspaper, to facilitate her Indian passport in the name of Amrithanandamayi.
A well planned campaign in South Indian towns with sizable Malayalee populations, followed her first foreign tour in 1985. By1990, Amma had a devotee strength of over one lakh. Foreign trips brought in the cash for starting institutions. One after the other invitations poured in: to address World Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1993), religious congregation to mark the golden jubilee of UN (1995), the Peace Millennium Summit of UN (2000) and the World Peace Meet of Women Spiritual Leaders (2002). Amma received Gandhi-King award in 2002.
These were no small achievements for an Indian Saint of low social origin. When she signed up with Singapore Airlines for her first foreign flight, Amma was totally ignorant about the prowess of modern business management. Religion and spirituality were recognized as the USP of our subcontinent long back, by the managers of Rajanish and MaheshYogi. Their focus was the Indian rich, foreigners and corporates. Mangers of Amrithanandamayi chose NRIs of the South, especially NRKs, who were spiritually handicapped in a variety of ways. Sankara, Vivekananda, Narayana Guru or their mystic wisdom, could hardly be packaged to address their spiritual needs. They needed something very tangible. Lovable and of universal appeal, Amma was less demanding intellectually, but far more satisfying emotionally: She was God incarnate for the existentialist Hindus of an emerging century.
Throughout the golden jubilee, Amma was conspicuously visible and she was seen handling captains of industry and other celebrities from all over the world, including the Indian President, with ease and without the inter-mediation of her managers. The event was well organized and managed with precision by a team of brilliant professionals and headed by a CEO, who was conspicuously invisible. Such brilliance cannot be confined in the shadows for long: a top ranker of Harvard succeeding the village school drop-out could be yet another Indian miracle.
Amrithanandamayi Mutt is sure to be an excellent case study in social marketing and social entrepreneurship for years to come, in five-star management schools, the world over.