A visit to Amma's
Surrounded by the majestic peaks of Himachal Pradesh, tucked away in a valley, lies a tiny hamlet called Haripur. In this hamlet a mystical being dwells, known to those in this village as Mataji, or Amma. Mataji is known amongst Colombo’s art enthusiasts as Druvinka. In this backdrop does Mataji continue to perform diverse roles as a mother, a neighbour, priest and friend.
After a weary journey to this far away place, I am greeted at the Duna, the seat of the eternal flame. Amma is seated cross legged and welcomes me by applying sacred ash known as Vibhuthi on my forehead. It symbolizes the opening of the third eye.
The Duna plays an important role in Sadhu life. This flame consists of five elements- water, fire, air, earth and sky. It represents the nature of shamanic life. Mataji sits still besides the fire whilst welcoming guests who come to visit, as if to signify the stillness of her place in this world while the world and life casually revolves around her.
Mataji has always lived with company. A range of guests — from intrigued visitors to weary travelers — come in to visit and be guided by her, even more regularly during the summer months. The more frequent visitors in her humble abode are Chellas and Chellis who in a formal sense are disciples of a teacher but also casually used to refer those who assist in the functions of a Sadhu’s life. Pandits, Hindu scholars or musicians, come to visit bringing along Bhajans and Keertans, which are songs praising deities or the elements. Other swamis also often frequent Mataji’s in discourse of various aspects of spiritual life.
Mataji speaks of the importance of Sadhana, which is the discipline one has towards a spiritual goal. A Sadhana could be simple as 5 minutes spent meditating in an office chair or like for Mataji a journey of a realization of her self, leaving stardom and worldliness behind to embrace the essence of a special consciousness. Her time spent in the tent by the Duna further signifies her Sadhana. She spends hours here listening, advising, guiding those adherents almost all day with little time for herself, her 2 children, and her paintings.
The sound of a conch resonates outside her Mandir at dusk everyday, which meets the sound of her howling dogs. This marks the start of the Arti Puja, or evening offering. The large stone Shiv Lingam lies at the centre of the shrine. Surrounding the Shiv Lingam are many beautiful images of deities of not only the Hindu philosophy. With one hand Mataji rings the ghanta (bell) while she swirls a lamp with the other around the shrine. Her disciples play the dhol and the gong while she swirls the lamp, to create the atmosphere of fervent prayer. Throughout this Puja my mind is still and heavy, trying to familiarize myself with the unknown, at least reassured by the presence of Mataji. After this ritual everyone in attendance is presented with this divine flame to receive blessing and leans forward for the sacred ash to be rubbed on their foreheads by Amma.
When painting Mataji describes to me the various characters that appear in the paintings. None of them are drawn intentionally she says; she only intentionally traces out the images that she sees appearing from the painting. Mataji’s paintings are a part of her spiritual life. She explains to me that her paintings are not about one subject but contain the sprit of many beings she confronts while she paints. Through her paintings, she is able to show the rest of us all the gods, deities, kings of the underworld and the symbols of afterlife.
It’s been around six years since Mataji visited Colombo last. Although, she recalls her days spent here in her youth, as a visiting exhibitor amongst the other prominent artists. Her life now starkly different to her past, evidently submersed spiritually. The changes from her beginnings to what later unfolded in her life was the result of meeting her spiritual mentor, Baba Rampuri, author of Autobiography of a Sadhu, a journey into mystic india. Baba Rampuri is one crucial contributor that led her to her initiation into the Juna Akhara, the largest order in membership of a Hindu spiritual philosophy. From here she has firmly built her identity as a Sadhu. Over the last few years word has spread beyond the summits of the Himalaya to Ashrams and Sai Baba centres in Malaysia. Reminding me that she is here to serve a divine purpose that touches many of those lives seeking her warmth.