33 things to know before going to Amritapuri ashram in Kerala India
Back in March 2015 I spent 10 days at Amritapuri ashram in Kerala, India where I joined my dad after his 2 weeks there (he was there on his own while I was traveling around Kerala with a group of other bloggers.)
Amritapuri, which was opened by Amma in 1981 was the first ashram we both ever visited. It is situated on a peninsula, or a small island, surrounded by Kerala Backwaters and the Indian Ocean.
Ashram is a place where spiritual aspirants live with a Guru.
At Amritapuri ashram the Guru is Amma.
I remember that we spent quite a lot of time searching for information about Amritapuri before we arrived. There is not that much online so I took time to write down what I could remember. It might be useful if it’s your first ashram visit, too.
There’s so many expressions you might hear in any ashram in India so I included many of them in thi list as well so you have it all in one.
*It is NOT allowed to take photos inside Amritapuri, so I could only take pics on the beach or close to the ashram.
33 things to know before going to Amritapuri ashram:
1. Amritapuri means the abode of immortality which refers to ashram premises.
2. Amritapuri is more expensive than other ashrams in India. It costs 250 rupees per person per night with 3 Indian meals included daily. There’s also free potable water at a few stations around the ashram where you can refill your bottles. You can buy fruit/fruit juices in the afternoon at one of the stalls inside and fresh coconuts all day long just outside of the main gate next to the reception and the Kali temple.
3. The adjoining village is Parayakadavu and the one across the bridge is called Vallikavvu. There you can exchange or withdraw money, buy fruit, clothes and anything else at the market and even go to the internet cafe.
4. Amma, whose full name is Sri Mata Amritanandamayi is the woman who built Amritapuri and other ashrams around India. Her name Amma means ”mother of immortal bliss”. It was Amma’s first disciples who gave her this name.
5. Ficus peepul-ashvattha tree in front of ashram is the tree of life representing a holy place.
6. Puja means worship, adoration, respect. Pujas can cost anywhere between 2,000 rupees to 6,500 or even 9,000 depending on what you need them for. They are performed every morning and evening. You can sit on the floor/chair and be part of the ceremony for free finished by fire cleaning, sacred water drinking, prasad eating and praying inside. Or you can order a puja ritual beforehand to get one aimed directly on your person which will be done at the end of the general puja.
7. Prasad is food offering, a gift of God. At Amritapuri in the morning after Pujas you could get a sort of sweet pudding with raisins.
8. Arati is offering of a flame to the form of God (e.g. after the bhajans when a person walks with fire around the statues.)
9. Darshan means inner vision in Sanskrit.
10. Bhajans are poetic devotional songs to express love and longing for God in groups. You can hear one of the most effective spiritual practices at the temple twice a day. Just women can enter the main temple where other women are singing Bhajans.
I still remember what my new friend Marek said: ”To listen to the Bhajans, only women can go to the Kali temple. But I so like them, too that now I go upstairs to help them with the leaflets and labels as only SEVA men can stay there listen to the Bhajans. The last song is incredible, with the bell and all those female voices, right?”
11. Pradakshina is the act of turning around three times clockwise after worship/bhajans and it is done to surrender to the divine.
12. Bell ringing – pujaris ring bells to call attention of God and to silent the devotees and other noise (before arati.) During arati and bhajans it is done to focus our prayers at the time on God.
13. Greeting you will hear everywhere Om Namah Shivaya means salutation to the auspicious one. ”We greet the God in another person.” The phrase is also used instead of thank you, hello, goodbye and excuse me.
14. Many people at Amritapuri ashram wear mala rudraksha bracelets or necklaces consisting of 54 beads or 108 plus one bindu on one thread to connect to God during prayers. The seeds are from a sacred tree elaeocarpus ganitrus. It is believed that the natural electromagnetic properties of malas rudraksha reduce stress ad improve concentration. According to Wikipedia, ”the benefits have not been proven by science but rudraksha is believed to provide good support for those who are constantly on the move and who eat and sleep in a variety of places.” It’ a funny fact as one morning when walking along the beach a mala rudrasha bracelet was washed up on the shore just next to my feet. A ”coincidence?”
15. When you enter the temples and most of the buildings, the shoes are left outside. The shoes attract dirt and symbolize the impure ego. If you touch someone with our feet, then you should touch them also with your hands and bring the hands to your forehead to show respect.
16. Homas are fire ceremonies.
17. You can get a free Ayurvedic consultation on Mondays.
18. There’s free 2-day IAM meditation courses offered pretty often. You can also join if you wish to refresh your memory after having passed an IAM course already. IAM is taught to help people find fullfillment in life. It’s a combination of pranayana, yoga and meditation which leads to better clarity, creativity, awareness and reduction of stress. It is taught free of charge around the world, only sometimes the place fee is charged (which was the case of my first IAM course in Prague, too.) Also yoga retreats take place at Amritapuri. For more info, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
19. You have to pay for the 90-min yoga classes. When there’s Amma at Amritapuri, usually there’s more people so more yoga classes are scheduled. Otherwise, sometimes only classes for women are there which was also the case when I was there. However, I practiced yoga on my own on the beach anyway.
20. It is forbidden to swim on the beach outside of Amritapuri. The current is too strong and dangerous. But I could not even imagine people swimming there as maybe many Westerners would swim just in their bikini and it would not fit the whole holy ashram idea.
21. Amma gives spiritual name to people once in a while, maybe once per month or per three months.
22. Many people around both India and Amritapuri wear a dot on their forehead. Tilak, or tilaka dot is a mark of auspiciousness (success) and it can be also worn on other parts of the body. Usually though, it is applied on the third eye, the place called bhrumadhya. Tilak here can be drawn using sandal wood paste (aspect of universe Shiva, to calm down), red kumkum turmeric powder (used only in the morning for active energy), or sacred ash vibhuti. You can find these three things to mark your own tilak at the place where Pujas are performed at Amritapuri. Men paint also different kinds of tilak all over their forehead, not just dots – Vishnu God is represented by vertical lines while other Gods by horizontal tilak.
23. People of all religions are welcome at Amritapuri ashram because Amma believes there is just one God – our up conscious.
24. You will hear Vishnu and Krishna names a lot. It’s said Vishnu came 21 times to the Earth and Krishna was one of his avatar forms which came 5,000 years ago.
25. Most of the Amritapuri residents wear simple white clothes. White is symbol of purity to remind us our spiritual goal. There’s a few shops right at the ashram where you can buy white clothing (new or used one.)
26. Meals are not supposed to be that spicy and we heard that they are less spicy when Amma is at the ashram. They should be without spices and salt.
27. There’s a Western cafe inside the ashram which surprised me to see at first. But later on, Marek explained to me what he was told:
”Amma knows what she is doing. The foreigners would go to buy coffee and sweets to the village anyway, and spend more money there. This way they can not only spend more money here in the ashram at the cafeteria but most of all practice self-control, too. Try to get a coffee once, then just pass by, see others drinking and slowly, day by day, consciously say no to it. Once you learn to avoid all these pleasures of the modern world here, it will get easier then in the outside world when you get back to normal life.”
28. In Amritapuri, there’s two good astrologers. If you don’t know the exact time when you were born, then one of the astrologers, Sanjit, can tell you more depending on a few important situations in your life. You can sign for his 30 minute reading at 002 cottage for the price of 600 rupees. The second astrologer is Mohan in the Kali temple who will tell you more about your life if you know the time of your birth (for the same price for 30 minutes.)
29. The rule is that everyone cleans the dishes and cups after themselves at the restaurants and put them back to the shelf. All the shops and restaurants here are operated by volunteers and everyone is required to help with their own bit for at least 2 – 4 hours per day. It’s not a must, but a nice SEVA deed.
30. You are asked to switch off the lights, fans and water when not in use. There’s only cold water running in the bathroom pipes but in that heat it gets hot during the day anyway. There’s no air conditioning in the rooms either, only fans.
31. Amma is not at Amritapuri all the time but spends a lot of months traveling. The ashram gets busier when she is there so it’s recommended to book your accommodation beforehand. Otherwise, you can even come and try your luck right there at the ashram reception.
32. What really touched my heart when I was at Amritapuri ashram was the charity. Amma controls the Embracing the World organization which has been helping poor people, people attacked by tsunami, earthquake in Haiti and Japan, or orphans. For example, the organization gave money to the Orphanage in Kerala and in Kenya which helped more than 25,000 children. It’s also financially supporting more than 55,000 widows and handicapped children in India, and also built 47 schools and a University in India. More than 45,000 houses around India were constructed thanks to this organization; and a hospital in Kochi where more than 2.2 million of patients have been helped. Every year food is given to more than 10,000 people all across India; another 73,000 people in Northern America are fed. The GreenFriends volunteers work on many ecological projects around the world and are planting trees as part of the Billion Tree Campaign, too.
33. Amritapuri is home to thousands of children from all over the world. This ashram is a living example of the ancient Indian ideal where ”the whole world lives as one family.”
To find out more, check out 21 things I learned at ashram Amritapuri.