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Ed. Note: This is the fourth in a series of blogs about our visit to Amma’s Public Program in Marlborough, Mass. on July 14, 2012.  Please also see:
Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound by Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 3 –  Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Photos/Video)

Prelude to Darshan: Fire & Flowers

After her radiant arrival and stirring satsang, Amma sang bhajans with us for over an hour, lifting her arms to the heavens, gathering energy and sending it out, laughing heartily, and crying out “Jai Ma!” throughout it all.

The final rite before darshan with Amma began was the “waving of the light” (Aarthi), a traditional ritual in which camphor is ceremoniously burned on a platter before the guru.  Pairs of devotees waved a silver platter with little brass-colored pots of smoking camphor back and forth in front of Amma as she tossed handful after handful of flower petals onto them.

By the third round, Amma’s lap was strewn with petals, and the devotees in the front had petals in their hair and all about.  Each aspect of this sacred ritual has deep symbolism; camphor leaves no trace as it burns and is symbolic of the dissipation of the devotee’s ego in order that they may become one with the Divine.

About that Hug…

When it was time for darshan to begin, Amma moved to the floor in front of the stage, where she was situated at the end of a two-lane darshan line consisting of rows of chairs.  If you’ve ever been to see Amma, you know the drill. You get a token at the beginning of the evening with an assigned letter/number combo, then you wait for it to be your turn.

I had number U-1,  which meant I was in for a long wait as they made their way, slowly, through the alphabet.  Nothing to do but sit and soak up the bhajans, which continued throughout the night by a changing cast of musicians.

Finally, around 3:30 a.m., my number came up. The hall was still quite crowded, and Amma showed no signs of slowing down or taking a break, even though she had been hugging people for over five hours nonstop. The “chair line” was moving quite fast when I entered it: no sooner did I sit down when I had to stand and move to the next chair. It was somewhat comical, like a game of musical chairs on the way to receive the Guru’s graces.

As I got closer to Amma, I could feel the frenetic energy rising, as volunteers, aides and devotees crowded around her. Others were waiting for a turn to ask her a question, or were just lingering in her energy as long as possible. At the front of the chair line, volunteers gently push you to your knees, and you inch forward the last few feet, sandwiched tightly between the person ahead of you and the one behind you. It’s what I imagine it must be like on a crowded train in India.

Then, suddenly, you are there. Kneeling before Sri Mata Devi. The frenzy of the scene around me dissipated, the noisy hall quieted to a dull hum. There was only me and Ma.  I was enveloped in her sheer white veils, smothered by her embrace, lulled by her deep whisper: “My daughter, my daughter.”

A Hug and A Kiss

And then it was over. A Hershey’s kiss was pressed into my palm as volunteers implored me to stand up quickly and make room for the next. A bit dazed, I was ushered to an area to the left of Amma, where it was possible to bask in the bhav of the Guru for a few moments longer. People were rotated through the dozen or so coveted spots rather quickly, depending on how quickly the hugs were happening. Each move of the line got you closer to Amma.

When I reached the front of this “post-hug” line, about three feet from where Amma sat, the line stopped moving. I was graced with a close-up view of her as she continued her embraces, even while a devotee stood next to her feeding her prasad (cut fruit, in this case) and imploring her to eat. I was mesmerized to witness this extraordinary woman up close, in all her Divine Humanness, eating fruit, chatting animatedly, and hugging her beloved “children” all at once.  It was as if she had developed six arms, just like the legendary Hindu goddesses she evoked.

At that moment, she glanced in my direction. Our eyes met. Hers sparkled; mine teared up. She smiled. Then she went back to her hugging, and a gentle tap on my shoulder told me my time near Amma was up.  That glance will stay with me.

Post-Script: Venus, Jupiter & the Moon

The program ended soon afterward.  I left the cavernous, echoing hall at around 4:30 a.m., just as the night sky was giving way to the deep indigo tinge of pre-dawn. There was a crowd outside staring at the sky and chattering excitedly. I looked up to find a perfect planetary conjunction: Venus below, Jupiter above, with a sliver of the moon smack dab in the middle of them.

Wow, I thought. The planets really did line up.

 
Please also see the other articles in the series:
Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound at Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 3 – Devi Bhajans, Sung by the Devi (Video/Photos)
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.
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Ed. Note: This is the third in a series of blogs about our visit to Amma’s Public Program on July 14, 2012.  Please also see:

Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 2 – Spellbound by Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video Link)
Pt. 4 –  A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
 

After Amma’s teaching during Satsang, it was time to sing.  Amma settled in, her swamis took their positions, and more musicians appeared from the wings.  Suddenly the monstrosity of a convention hall was echoing in every corner with the joyful nectar of traditional bhajans, or devotional songs.

Amma began singing quietly, prayerfully.  Her eyes were closed and hands in her lap, or clenched in prayer at her chin.

Then suddenty, she would cry out exuberantly, lifting her arms to the sky. She had a way of bringing her hands to the crown of her head, then sweeping them up to the heavens and out to the people before her. She repeated this over and over, as if gathering up her own divine energy and sending it out to “all beings in all worlds.”

 

 

 

 

She drummed on her platform with a stick…

 

 

clanged on hand cymbals…

 

and clapped her hands in time with the musicians.

Periodically she would throw her head back and laugh heartily, or cry out “Jai Ma.”  The crowd sang and clapped and “Jai Ma-ed” right along with her.

But let’s face it, words and still images only go so far when it comes to bhajans.  Experience a little taste of Amma’s bhajan bhav live in this video by James Luce for The Bhakti Beat.


To continue reading “Blessings, Bhajans & Bear Hugs,” please see:

The fourth article in the series: Pt. 4 – A Hug, A Kiss and A Glance (Photos/Video Link)
 
Also see:
The first article in the series: Pt. 1 – The Arrival (Photos/Video Link)
The second article in the series: Pt. 2 – Spellbound at Satsang with Amma (Quotes/Photos/Video)
 
Follow us on facebook to see all the pictures from Amma’s Public Program.
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With Vermantra, Kirtan Storms Vermont

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The setting for Vermantra: Vermont College of Fine Arts' Chapel

While an early Nor’easter slammed the East Coast last weekend, kirtan stormed Vermont. “Vermantra” drew some of the brightest lights in the northeast kirtan world to the grand Chapel at Vermont’s College of Fine Arts for a day-long immersion in sacred sound, satsang and yoga, all to benefit Vermont flood victims.

Ironic, huh? The first big storm of the year threatens a fund-raiser for relief from the last big storm, Hurricane Irene?

Well, Nor’easter be damned. As Ishwari, one-half of SRI Kirtan (with Sruti Ram), pointed out deep into the night: “It’s snowing outside and we don’t even care!”

Call. Response.

Chanting for Charity: Jen Canfield and Devadas Labrecque

Vermantra is the dream-child of Jennifer Canfield, a native Vermont bhakta and founder of the Call & Response Foundation. Jen has been working with Vermont’s only psychiatric hospital to bring kirtan to the patient/inmates (Dave Stringer, the Mayapuris, and the Hanumen have all been there!), but that program is on hold because Irene’s floodwaters washed right through the facility and rendered it unusable.  Along with Brooklyn-based kirtan artist Devadas Labrecque, Jen led the call for a 12-hour kirtan benefit, and kirtaniyas from New York, Boston and beyond responded. That included SRI Kirtan, Nina Rao, Jeremy & Lily, Anjula Prasad from New York; Adam Bauer, Dave Russell and Tom Lena from Massachusetts; Brenda McMorrow from Toronto…plus KC Solaris, Baba Kamal, Rasamrta Devi Dasi, Danny Solomon, Jerry Otenrocks and so many local kirtaniyas.

The day was loaded with memorable moments. Among my personal highlights were SRI Kirtan’s set, because they never fail to blow me away with their full-on heart-rockin’ bhakti, and a rollicking Jai Ma chant with local yogi Prem Prakash and a dozen or so musicians jamming out….Adam Bauer on HARMONIUM leading kirtan (soft and sooo sweet)…Nina Rao doing the Chalisa…the vocal nectar of Anjula Prasad and Lily Cushman that made everyone sit up and take notice…a kickin’ medley of Beatles + Hare Krishna from Tom Lena….every song by Brenda McMorrow…

Oh, just watch the videos. Brenda McMorrow just bubbles over with joy in this Lakshmi chant, with Satya Franche (vocals), KC Solaris (tabla), Nina Rao (mridanga), Adam Bauer (bass) and Jen Canfield on box drum (yeah, she can play too).

Here’s Nina Rao (best known as the gatekeeper to Krishna Das but a chantress in her own right) doing her signature “Nina Chalisa,” her version of the 40-verse prayer to Hanuman. She’s joined by Devadas, Jeremy Frindel, Lily Cushman, and Rasamrta Devi Dasi.

And last (for now) but definitely not least, this kirtan jam with Prem Prakash and the Kailash Jungle Band — which in this case included every bhakta in the room! So much fun!

Stay tuned to this space for more videos from Vermantra, including SRI Kirtan and Tom Lena…

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