Our friends, who call themselves secularists and rationalists often complain against those who follow the path of spiritualism on two grounds. They point out that the spiritualists are only concerned about life after death and not bothered about the sufferings of people in this life. We have, of course, examples of religious leaders leading a cloistered life very often bordering on a luxurious life confirming themselves to a few rituals only.
It is often pointed out that these religious leaders are normally surrounded by so-called affluent high caste elderly retired people. The common people who witness these things normally come to the conclusion that religion and spirituality are meant only for rich retired old people mostly belonging to the so-called high castes. This provided an ideal background for the growth of atheism and its byproduct communism. This situation was fully exploited by those who were working for mass conversion to organise religions with the help of money.
This was the scenario in states like Kerala. The English educated followers of Macaulay as well as Marx further added to this strange and unfortunate situation, deriding everything Indian and adoring everything from abroad. It was in this background that Swami Vivekananda, who visited Kerala in the late nineteenth century, described Kerala as a mad house. The emergence of the great social reformers saint Sree Narayana Guru and saint Sree Chatambi Swami turned the wheels of social history of Kerala. The post Independent period after Gandhiji'sexit saw the growth of socialist materialist thinking in the entire country. It was further compounded by the spread of Macaulay'seducational system and Marxist-Socialist political ideology. Religion was looked down with contempt, many temples were closed. Then we witness the advent of a spiritual personality Mata Amritanandamayi in a coastal fishing village of Kollam district in Kerala. Like Shri Ramakrishna, Amma, as she is endearingly called by the devotees, also did not complete her elementary school education.
As a child, she was very much touched by the poverty of the fishermen and the agony suffered by the aged poor people. Right from childhood she was madly in love with God (Sri Krishna) and felt that serving the poor, sickly, aged people is as good as serving the God. She was convinced that serving the sick is our duty to God. She did not lay emphasis on rituals and ostentatious show of bhakti. She emphasised the point that God looks at the mental attitude of the devotees and not the riches offered at the temples.
As the reputation of Amma as a spiritual master spread in the state she began organising service activities with the participation of her devotees. One of the major activities was building houses for the poor and needy people. She has already completed about thirty thousand houses for poor people in Kerala and different states in India. She herself led the construction activities along with her devotees and disciples. Keys of the first batch of five thousand houses completed were handed over by former Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998. The second phase of house construction for the poor is aimed at completing one lakh houses in the course of 10 years.
Amma'sservice activities came to be noticed by the world community when she came forward to serve the victims of tsunami in 2004. She offered to render services worth one hundred crore. Tsunami hit villages in Kerala received her attention first in Kollam, Alappuzha and Ernakulam districts. The victims in Karunagapally Taluk were fed for months together twice a day. 6200 homes were built by Amma and given to poor in Kerala, Tamil Nadu (Nagapattanam), Pondichery, Andaman and Sri Lanka. 700 fishing boats and nets were distributed. In the affected areas 2500 young people were given training in nursing, tailoring, driving and security related jobs.
In 2001, the earthquake-affected people at Bhuj in Gujarat received Amma'shelp, for whom she rebuilt three villages where 1200 earthquake resistant houses were built with facilities like community hall, school, temple, road and electrification. So also in Surat in 2006 when unprecedent floods devasted the city. When the Hurricane Katrina and Rita struck in the United States in 2005 Amma'sdevotees in America opened 100 service centres to look after the hungry and homeless. Amma'scentre in California donated one million dollars to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.
In Kochi, Amma set up a state of the art 1,500 bed modern super specialty hospital in 1998 where the poor people are given free treatment. The services of the medical experts of Amma Medical Colleges are made available in far flung areas like Sabarimala, Amritapuri, Andaman Islands. For cancer and AIDS patients hospices are opened in Mumbai and Nedumangad near Trivandrum. An Ayurveda Medical College and Hospital with facilities for research has been set up in Amritapuri.
Amma feels that we have already missed providing modern education on the basis of our ancient culture. As part of her attempt to impart good value-based education she has set up a Deemed University near Coimbatore with affiliated colleges in Amritapuri, Mysore, Bangalore and Ettimada and Cochin?Amrita Viswa Vidya Peetham. To enhance higher education in India, services of ISRO, Departments of Service and Technology and a tie up with 24 leading American Universities are arranged. Amritanandamayi Muth is running 53 schools providing value based education as per central syllabus. There is an Amrita Speech and Hearing Improvement School in Trichur. In order to help the families of poor farmers who have committed suicide, Amma is providing educational scholarship to 30,000 such children. Jan Sikshan Sansthans are organised in Idukki and Sivakasi districts in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Amma is particularly concerned about the sufferings of the women. Therefore, she is providing monthly pension to one lakh destitute women as well as physically and mentally challenged men, women and children. As part of Amma'sbirthday ceremony, marriages were conducted for impoverished couples. Care homes have been set up in Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu), Bangalore and Karwar in Karnataka.
Twenty Brahmasthana Temples have been set up all over the country where a unique system of worship is introduced, where unity of the family concept is emphasised, where devotees are helped to offer poojas and women are also posted as Poojaris and Matadhipatis, thereby helping empowerment of women. Women self help groups are set up at some places where women devotees are brought together in villages and helped to eke out a living in an organised manner to have training in trade, financial management and marketing of products. Tree plantation is taken up earnestly. Amma'sIntegrated Amrita Meditation Technique is popularised widely in various parts of the world and it is practised even by the armed forces personal in border areas.
Amma'sservice activities are so widespread that it touches upon both spiritual as well as secular. It is aimed at not only the total development of man but also the harmonious upliftment of all sections of the society. A silent revolution is taking place which I hope will bring about a paradigm shift in Kerala for the better.
(The writer is a former Union Minister for Defence, Law and Justice and Urban Development.)
(Mata Amritanandamayi Muth, Amritapuri, P.O. Kallam-690 525, Kerala.)