Today was the most "interesting and eventful" day ever since I came to India.
All of the events written below took place in one day and are associated with a Hindu religious sect and its leader Sri Narayani Amma (hereafter Amma) who is said to be the avatar of a Hindu goddess called Narayani.
(Note: All Amma's devotees usually call Amma "she" not "he" because of Amma's avatar-status of "goddess". However, I call Amma "he" in this article to avoid confusion and also because he appears male to me.)

1. Local Indian School

Natalie from Australia was doing charitable work in India for many years. I met her yesterday and she then asked me if I was interested in visiting a local school the next morning. I said to her "Why not?!"
The school was located just outside the Sripuram Spiritual Park (hereafter Sripuram) and was being funded and managed by Amma. The ages of students ranged from 4 to 18, and both boys and girls. We first met the principal and then a couple of teachers followed by a lot of students, about 70% of whom were from very low income families (according to Natalie).


All students dressed in clean white uniforms. Most of them were very shy, especially girls, but a few became very curious about me when I told them that I was from Japan. They showed me some Karate poses and repeatedly asked me to take photos of them with my camera. Apparently, one of the options for their extra school curriculum was Karate.


I wish I'd practiced Karate before.

2. The Golden Temple
(Note: No photos were taken as cameras were prohibited inside the Sripuram)

David and Sara from Lyon, France were frequent visitors to the Sripuram and they kindly showed me around the Golden Temple - the core building of this whole Sripuram site.
David let me use one of his male-sarees in order to cover my legs. I put it on and made myself look slightly Hindu with some help from David, although I still had my casual T-shirt on then.
We walked into the outer compound of the Golden Temple from a back-door and we didn't have to pay the entrance fee then as we were staying at one of the guesthouses run by Amma. The temple is built at the center of an enormous garden and this garden can be seen as a big 6-point star from the above. Needless to say, the temple itself was very golden and also stunningly beautiful. I even thought that it was slightly bigger and brighter than our golden temple in Kyoto, Japan (aka Kinkakuji). However, by observing this shinning temple, two things made me seriously wonder: 1) Why did they choose a 6-point star as the outline of the Sripuram garden? Check it out on Google Map! Many people including myself would instantly think of it as Star of David for the symbol of Judaism. 2) Where did all the money come from to build such an extravagant building while millions of people in India are suffering in great poverty?

Ummm... I don't get it!

3. Puja by Amma
(Note: No photos were taken as cameras were prohibited inside the Sripuram)

I was going to have a little late lunch as I was very busy running around for the two events mentioned above, but I completely missed it today due to a call made for an afternoon puja - puja is a Hindu ritual for prayer.
Mind you, I am an atheist and I feel quite awkward when I'm in a place where serious religious ceremonies are taking place. Therefore, I wasn't very keen on joining it and I didn't wanna miss my lunch either. However, my curiosity of "Who the hell is Amma?" somehow threw me into a mini-bus in which Amma's international followers were all eagerly waiting for the bus to take them to where their guru was.
The mini-bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere but still within the Sripuram. One of Amma's servants showed up and guided us to a small ceremonial hall where Amma was already carrying out a puja The place was surrounded by lots of tropical trees and flowers. Moreover, as some kind of soothing music was played by Amma's servants, it felt like it was the most peaceful place I had ever been to in India.
The whole puja took about two hours and lots of chanting was made throughout it. Halfway through the ceremony, however, my legs and hips started aching a lot as we were sitting on a very hard floor. I had to move or change my sitting position quite often and I probably disturbed other participants who were so into meditation then. Sorry, I couldn't help it!
What intrigued me the most during this puja was when a cow was brought in front of Amma (a live cow, of course.) Amma carried out a little ritual called "Gho puja". It was done in such a calm manner and the cow seemed incredibly relaxed then. Amma even drew some marks on the cow's body with no interference by the cow. I was just amazed then.
At the end of the puja all of us were told to line up for Amma to give holy water to each one of us. Despite the fact that I initially hesitated over the idea of "holy water" as being an atheist, I could not refuse it and found myself jumping into the queue. I was a little nervous but very excited to get close to so-called "the avatar of Narayani".
When my turn came, I slowly stepped forward to Amma and I looked at him. Amma gazed at me as if he was reading my mind; his eyes were wide-open without any blinks and captivating. He then suddenly asked me a question with such soft voice: "Where from ?", "I'm from Japan." I replied. He said nothing else afterwards and tossed holy water with a spoon onto my right hand. I sucked it all at once and I felt the water running through my throat nicely. It actually tasted very familiar, though I couldn't tell what it was.

And this was all in the end. But now a few questions arose in my head:
Q1) Was there anything holy in the water?
A1) I really don't know.
Q2) Was the puja extraordinary in any way??
A2) Yes, the cow was.
Q3) What was Amma like???
A3) Well, he definitely had some charisma and I felt some sort of a force-field around him, but he looked completely human to me.
Apparently, many of Amma's devotees attend this kind of puja every single day, but I don't. The way I see it is that the more I try to see Amma, the more meaningless it becomes on every consecutive occasion. Otherwise, I could become very obsessed and I want to see him even more.

The trick is: not wanting it but accepting it, right?

4. Prabha

Marco, a young wanna-be-an-artist from Australia, asked me if I was interested in going back to the Golden Temple this evening. I'd already been there earlier this morning with David and Sara, but I didn't mind going to see it again. So I went there with him just before sunset. This time we were able to enter the inner compound of the Golden Temple where I could clearly see the statue of goddess Narayani placed inside the temple. Oddly enough, everything was golden such as walls, ceilings, columns and roofs except the face of the Narayani statue, which wasn't very visible from where I was, but looked dark-brownish to me.
This statue-face made me ponder once again why they built this temple with gold as gold seemed to me one of the worst possessions in today's materialistic world, and in practice all religions should be teaching people to refrain from it.
While I was being puzzled about the use of gold on the temple, Marco took me to another temple called "Sri Narayani Peedam" - the original temple and it was built long before the golden one. This temple had ordinary looks without any use of gold. Marco and I walked into this temple and took part of another puja. Funnily enough, both of us had to take our shirts off and we only had our sarees on then. Furthermore, during this puja one of the monks kept saying to me "You look like Bruce Lee! You new Bruce Lee!" Well, I actually didn't mind him calling me as one of my personal heroes, much better than calling me "Chinese!". Nevertheless, my attention was disturbed by him and couldn't really observe what was happening at this puja other than the fact that I saw another statue of Narayani inside this temple: this statue was all black. Now I was being mystified by many things such as Amma, pujas, the golden temple, etc.
As Marco and I walked outside the Sri Narayani Peedam, we ran into 69 year old Indian woman Prabha then. Prabha was born in Chennai, lived there for 55 years and moved into this tiny village a few years ago with her late husband. She was outspoken and fluent in English. She was also very knowledgeable in Hinduism, Amma and India. Up until now I never had a chance to engage in any decent conversations with local Indian women. Therefore, to have a chat with somebody like Prabha was very precious and enjoyable. Marco and I sat on the ground beside her and I swallowed every single word she said to me. Unlike Amma who had charisma, Prabha was bespectacled and had some charm that reminded me of my late grandma a little bit.

Prabha was such a bright woman and much brighter than the Golden Temple.



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