Ever since I developed my fascination with India I have been fascinated with the concept of an Ashram and staying in one, perhaps it was the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing that inspired this, I really don’t know where my catalyst to visit or my obsession of Ashram’s came from, but it was something that I have always wanted to do and therefore, made it’s place on my bucket list! When I was in Sri Lanka, I met two awesome chicks, including the beautiful Natalie, blogger from Girl and the World, both of these chicks had spent time in Ashrams and both had such different experiences. I read Natalie’s post on spending two weeks in an Ashram in Kerala and spoke to her in depth about her experiences, but I made sure to keep an open mind about what to expect in terms of a spiritual experience.
After a full day of travelling, I arrived in Amritapuri on Christmas day in the evening, I quickly checked into the International Check in Counter (which had more people checking in than the Indian counter did) then made an attempt to orientate myself with the Ashram.
Amritapuri is Massive
Nothing could prepare me for how big Amritapuri is, it was huge, there were dozens of massive skyscraper style dormitories designed to house the masses of western pilgrims seeking out spiritual enlightenment. In fact, it was the most luxurious place I have ever stayed at or seen in India, given this was mean to be about spiritual enlightenment, the sheer size of it was overwhelming and immediately I became sceptical about just how ligitimate this Ashram’s practices were.
My first (and Last) Bhajan
As it was Christmas Eve, Amma decided to bless her devottees with a sing-a-long of Bhajans in the Bhanjan hall, how when I first saw this hall, I was overwhelmed, it wasn’t a simple and spiritual haven, it was like the scene from a Bollywood Movie, the hall was massive and ornately decorated, there were massive flat screen TV’s and Projectors displaying images of Amma and translating the different Bhajans (songs / Chants) into various languages. In addition to this, there was also a massive light show that worked in sync with the various songs that Amma was singing, there was nothing spiritual about this experience, it seemed to be more of a stage production than a spiritual gathering.
The Westerners were FREAKS
What cemented my Ashram experience was seeing the behaviour of all of the western tourists in the Ashram, it was like common decency and behaviour were no longer existence in the confines of this commune, parents were letting their children run around naked (the indian children were all well dressed), the westerners would push in front of you and nudge you out of the way and were just down right nasty. To me, if someone is in an environment where they are experiencing deep spiritual enlightment, I had simply presumed that they would be deeply respectful of other people, not full of self rightuousness.
A Hug From Amma – Darshan
When Amma is inside the Ashram she gives Darshan (public huggings) on particular days of the week, as I was lucky enough to be in the Ashram when Amma was there, I registered to get a hug from Amma. This process was a lot more ardourous that I Had anticipated, firstly, I had to register to get a hug, i registered at 9 am in the morning and was told that I wouldn’t receive a hug until the evening at 8 pm. After a long day of walking around the Ashram and encountering these western spiritual freaks, I was strating to get pretty tired by 8 pm, so I made my way up to the line and was told that Amma was running behind schedule and would be at least another hour away. So I sat patiently, watching everyone else receive their hugs.
When it was finally my turn, I made my way to the queue (again) and had to sit waiting for another 1/2 an hour as the people in front of me were getting ushered to the stage, finally it was my turn to go on stage, this process again took alot longer than expected as there were at least 50 other people sitting on stage waiting for their hugs. So I sat watching Amma’s minders prepare all the devotees for their hugs. When it was finally my turn, I was told to kneel, asked my langugage and then pushed into Amma’s neck where she muttered something to me in Hindu (I think).
As I walked off stage and grabbed my shoes I thought what the hell was that all about, I didn’t feel any different and I certainly didn’t feel enlightened.
Sadly, whilst I respect those who do devote their lives to Amma, the Ashram lifestyle is not for me, I think perhaps if I went to a less western oriented Ashram I may have found a more cultural and spiritual experience, however on this occasion, I found that I was just one of over 1,700 western tourists trying to catch a glimpse of Amma and seek some enlightenment.
To me, spirituality is about daily existence, I don’t need to follow a guru to feel enlightened, I don’t need to sit in a room to meditate, living my life is my version of spirituality and that is what makes me happy. Whilst I am critical of my time in the Ashram, I can undoubtedly say that as a humanitarian, Amma has certainly done alot of good things for the world, through her foundation she has certainly provided many things including food, education and money for those in need, however her followers, for the better part, all seem to be freaks.