Last year, during my trip trough India, I visited the Ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Amma (which means Mother). She is one of the few female Gurus, and one of the most popular and well-known ones, even outside India.
Ashram: An Ashram is a spiritual hermitage. In the Indian languages it is usually a religious place, often for meditation.
Guru: The spiritual leader of an Ashram, in the case of the Amritapuri Ashram it is Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma).
Bhajans: Religious songs that will be chanted at special times, usually during sunset. All people staying in the Ashram are asked to participate.
Darshan: Darshan is Sanskrit and means "sight" or "vision of the divine". This means the direct contact with a Guru and can also refer to a blessing. In the case of Amma, the blessing is given via a hug.
Sadly, I am not able to post any pictures. Taking pictures in and around the Ashram is forbidden, since it is a place of spirituality. The Ashram of Amma is located next to a small fishing village, Parayakadavu, today known as Amritapuri, in Kerala, Mata Amritanandamayi's home town.
It consists of two very tall buildings that provide most of the housing to the over 3.000 people staying there every night. (I do not have any source to confirm this number! this is what the people working at the Ashram told us!)
The Ashram is located at the beautiful backwaters of Kerala between Kollam and Kochi.
How to reach it? You can reach it with the ferry boat leaving once daily from Allepey to Kollam and the other way round. The boat ride takes about 6 hours from Alleppey and 2 from Kollam.
You can also take a bus from Kollam to Alleppey and get off at Parayakadavu/ Amritapuri. This is a lot faster and just takes around 3 hours from Alleppey and 4 from Kollam.
What to expect? I was honestly impressed by the whole atmosphere. Although I am not at all a religious person I was touched by the ceremony surrounding the Darshan. I got blessed from Amma myself, but I did not experience anything special during the blessing (which was only about 20 or 30 seconds). There are really a lot of people in the Ashram. For about 3€ you can sleep there and they provide 3 basic meals a day. You are, however, asked to participate in voluntary service.
Dresscode: Yes, there is, of course, a special dresscode for spiritual places like this one.The monks and nuns of Amma are dressed entirely in white, whereas the people who are just visiting for a short time wear their usual cloths. Women should cover their body appropriately, including the shoulders and calves, which means first of all no tight clothes. The head, however, is not needed to be covered.
As much as I loved the Ashram, I am also critical and a bit suspicious. There are a lot of rules the "children" of Amma should follow, which also include turning aways from critics of Amma and people who do not live according to Amma's rules, including their friends and family. Of course, things like Alcohol, chily and garlic are also a no-go for Amma's spiritual children, as is speaking for the pleasure of speaking. The voice should only be used for the Bhajans and chanting mantras.
I liked the experience, but I do not think I will ever visit Amma's Ashram again because I do not think that her rules are reasonable. To me, it even looks similar to a sect, at least in some ways.
But I think it is a truly special experience that should not be missed out!
By the way, I booked my next trip a few weeks ago! I will spent a few days in Barcelona, Spain.
And comming september, I will also leave Germany to live elsewhere. So stay tuned!