I didn't time it like this, but exactly at midnight, New Years' eve, I was in Amma's warm embrace. It was such a special way for me to celebrate the passing of the year and welcome in a new one! There must have been 7,000 people on the ashram grounds, maybe more, and I was the one on Amma's lap.
The stage was crowded with devotees, floor monitors, prasad (sweets and packets of ash Amma gives people after a hug) assistants, face wiping assistants, bramacharins and bramacharinis (renounciates in training) swamis (graduated renounciates.) After my hug, I managed to walk to the back of the stage, a little light headed and “too blissed out” to engage with other people. Usually I would ask the floor monitor for a place to sit. But she efficiently spotted me and promptly kicked a woman out of her place and gestured to me to sit down. We only get a limited amount of time on the stage near Amma after our blessing.
Right after I settled into the vacant chair against the wall, I positioned my head slightly to the left to made sure I had a perfect view of Amma sitting at her chair, in a beeline across from me. Most people in front of me were sitting on the floor cross legged behind Amma. Cultural programs, such as classical dance and music performed by devotees were going on in the auditorium, below the stage where Amma was hugging her devotees since 11 am in the morning.
A few minutes after midnight and my hug, Amma started singing a simple bhajan, repeating the same line over and over, pointing both her index fingers to the air, even swinging her head and her body on her chair, in front of thousands of people in the auditorium. Devotees were singing after her in a typical call and response style of singing bhajans. What a scene that was! And the best part was that all other activity on the stage among assistants and monitors stopped and I got to stay there for at least another hour.
The night ended with a beautiful “pada puja.”Pada means feet and puja is a purifying ritual in Hinduism. The Indian family who performed the ritual, washed Amma's feet with curd (yogurt) and rose water. After they finished, they dressed Amma with garlands, bracelets, a crown and offered her food. It is considered a great honor to perform this ritual to a living mahatma, or great soul. One time I witnessed five pada pujas, in one day, one after the other at the end of Amma's program. No wonder Amma has difficulty keeping her weight down. She doesn't want to disappoint her devotees and often eats things she shouldn't, like sweets. She is diabetic.
After giving a little discourse and reminding us that where there is love there is peace, Amma left the stage and went to her house. After eating the paysam, an Indian sweet served to everyone, I went up to the flat, happy and peaceful, but a little congested from the refined sugar and milk of the dessert. Peter was already sleeping as I walked in. On Christmas eve I was the one who did not stay awake, now it was Peter's time to miss the strike of midnight. It is hard to stay awake to party in the ashram. He needed to be up at 5:30 am to do his duties in the kitchen. On January 1st ashram residents would be hungry for breakfast as any other day.