In December 2022, I began taking music instrument classes from Amrita Virtual Academy, starting with the ganjira.  In February 2024, I also started learning kaimani.  Both classes have had a strong impact on my life, my path and my sadhana. They have given me access to a practice that has sent its roots deep into many areas of my life.

The classes have helped connect me to other spiritual seekers in a beautiful way.  They have challenged me to expand at multiple levels and shown me that it is most important that my actions be connected to love.   They have also shown me that Amma is very much with me, that her plans are often surprising, and that her work is deep and constant. I feel very lucky to find myself in these classes. I would not have predicted that I would do something like this.

In this first blog post, I would like to tell the story about how, by Amma’s Grace, I started to attend these classes, beginning with the ganjira, and how I found my ganjira teacher, Br. Vipin. 

The story begins in Amma's Ashram Amritapuri….

The first time I remember hearing a ganjira was in the Kali temple at Amritapuri.  It was in the fall of 2022 on my first trip to India.  Every morning, women gather for archana in the Kali temple.  The 1000 Names of the Divine Mother are followed by the Sri Mahisausuramardini Stotram – a chant depicting an epic battle where the Divine Mother in the form of Durga slays various demons.   Normally, there are no instruments played during the chanting, but one day, the woman who was leading the chant played the ganjira.

This changed everything for me.

The stotram came to life.  I became enchanted and wondered if I could learn to play that instrument so I could bring this experience home with me.  

I am not really musical, and I had never heard a ganjira played like that before.  No one I spoke to had either.  The thought of my learning to play one seemed like a long shot.  But as it turned out, some time after I got home, I saw lessons offered online through the Amrita Virtual Academy.  So now, all I needed was the instrument.

A few weeks later, I rode with a friend to the San Ramon Ashram in California to attend satsang.

That very night, someone was playing a ganjira, in the bookstore,  after bhajans.  And sure enough, he was a student of Br. Vipin who teaches both in-person and online ganjira classes through Amrita Virtual Academy.  We then discovered that a few ganjiras were for sale in the bookstore.  We each bought one that very night.

But that is not the end of her grace.

Now that I had my own ganjira, I quickly signed up for the online class.  The class is detailed and starts with a comprehensive lesson on how to approach the instrument, how to hold it, and how to respect it. 

Br. Vipin introduces a few basic beats (or rhythms) used in Indian music which we are encouraged to practice with a metronome. Then step by step, beat by beat, the classes add something new each time.  Each section of the course is followed by an invitation to connect with Br. Vipin and submit a sample of our homework in video format.  Br. Vipin then responds with encouraging words and clear and precise recommendations for improvement.    

At the beginning, my playing was a bit stiff, my timing was off, and in some ways, not strong. Despite this, we—the ganjira and I—would practice and play together. If I found an exercise too challenging to do on my own with the metronome, I would just set a 20 minute timer, and play along with Br. Vipin and the demonstration videos, until it felt natural to me.

In September 2023, I returned to Amritapuri where I was able to meet Br. Vipin in person and take in-person lessons.  During our first lesson at the beach, he mentioned that this day was Ganesh Chaturthi (celebration of the birth of Lord Ganesh) and that a group of young people would be playing bhajans as part of the Ganesh puja at the Kalari (the space where Amma first started to give darshan and where the fire ceremonies are now held).  He invited me to join them.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience—very vibrant, fun and dynamic.  This opened up to other opportunities for me to play along with others. 

There is a video from the Ganesh Chaturthi 2023. You can see it here.

Shortly after Ganesh Chaturthi, during Onam (the harvest festival of Kerala where the relationship between man and Nature and human beings and God, is celebrated—read more here), I was able to hear first-hand other forms of percussion that are found in Kerala.  This helped to give me a context for what I was trying to create with the ganjira. 

Br. Vipin also gave tips to help me reduce my tension by encouraging me to slow down, relax, be in the moment and to play naturally.  Through these suggestions, as well as through the focus on playing as a meditation, he wove ganjira playing into my spiritual path. 

In Napa Valley, California (also known as wine country) people talk about “terroir”, a way of referring to the unique, recognizable qualities that a specific soil of an area offers to a grape, and later to the wine it produces.  Being immersed in the rhythms of Amritapuri and the surrounding area, I was able to feel that terroir of the rhythms of the Ganjira.   I could hear them echoing from their origin.  

Recognizing this instrument as a form of Amma’s love has helped me to keep practicing.  Every now and then, I hear something lovely in my playing—it feels like a kind of grace, an attunement with the beauty contained within all things.  This has become my meditation practice. 

Try out the Ganjira Course with Brahmachari Vipin, here.

Amrita Virtual Academy offers a wide range of musical classes, from singing to learning different instruments. See more here.

As a Amrita Virtual Academy member you have access to more than 60 different courses in different fields. Discover more about the AVA Membership here, and join.

Amrita Gita

Amrita Gita

I’m excited to share more with you about Amrita Gita, one of Amrita Virtual Academy’s most recent and valuable gemstones, amongst its online courses. This spiritual course dives deeply into Amma’s teachings, which are shared and made available through the poetic compilations of Swami Turiyamritananda Puri. 

Since Swami Turiyamritananda Puri had been the first disciple to be with Amma, and was with her since his teens, he heard many early conversations between Amma and her devotees. He realized the precious pearls of wisdom that emerged should be preserved and shared with the world. The result became a collection of poetic verses named, Amrita Dhara

Soon after, Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, Amma’s most senior disciple, tuned the verses into a wondrous bhajan for Amma’s 32nd birthday. The bhajan was named Omkara Divya Porule and contains 32 verses. Since then, Swami Turiyamritananda Puri has offered a new collection of “Amrita Dhara” verses each year for Amma’s birthday, containing the same number of verses as Amma’s years on the planet, in her current form

The verses from the first Omkara Divya Porule are currently being reflected on by the Ashram residents and visitors through the “Amrita Dhara Yajna” satsangs (spiritual talks), currently occurring daily, during Amma’s evening programs in Amritapuri, India, which are also streamed online with an on-demand replay available soon after.

In Amrita Virtual Academy’s course, Amrita Gita, a number of Amma’s swamis share their thoughts on the different verses of Amrita Dhara / Omkara Divya Porule through offering satsangs and Q&A sessions. They also share wondrous stories from the early days with Amma. The course also provides the opportunity to view some vintage video footage, satsangs, and stories from the Amritapuri archives, so you, too, can indulge in feeling what it was like to be with Amma in the early days. 

That was what captured me, as I listened to the first satsang in the course by Swami Turiyamritananda Puri; I loved how he speaks of stories from the past, and how Amma talked in parables. I also appreciated how Swamiji felt the need and call to preserve Amma’s wisdom, and turn her words into poems, so that people could more easily digest the essence of her teachings. 

I felt awe for the wisdom he has, to be able to transform those words from Amma into a more easy-to-understand, yet elegant language. I also thought about what a great heart he must possess to feel the need to serve the world in this way. It made me feel grateful and in awe, wishing no one to miss out on this rare and precious, online spiritual course!

Several of the students in the course have also expressed what the online classes have meant to them so far, and how the course has inspired, transformed and uplifted them in their spiritual practices, as well as their daily life. Here are are some sharings from a couple of those voices: 

Karen LaVigne (USA) shares:

The Swamis’ explanations and insights are so beautiful that I’m often brought to tears. The one inspiration that stays with me always is to keep Amma’s image in my mind, so she becomes my eyes/vision, ears, speech, smell, taste and touch… all my senses. I wish I had the words to express my gratitude for this practice.

Thank you to Karen for sharing her beautiful experience. What an inspiration for all of us, to keep Amma in our minds, close to our heart at all times… and to finally reach that point where we are established in that final experience that Amma is—indeed the consciousness behind our senses and mind. 

Our next student, Madhurima, also feels the power of this online spiritual course, and explains how the teachings help her to slowly transform her thoughts…

Madhurima (Canada) shares: 

“This ‘course’ has been such a lovely addition to my daily sadhana. And, I’ve followed the recommendation that the verses be sung at the end of arcana each morning… And, I know Verse 1 by heart now… Thank you. It is all so good… and I know I am imbibing the ‘wisdom’, as well… little by little in my daily life I find myself ‘correcting a thought’ with something that I have learned from the verses or the satsangs…”

Each month, one Swami provides three 20-minute commentaries on the verses in addition to a one-hour live Q&A. The final live session of the Amrita Gita online course is currently scheduled to be a closing ceremony in October (see schedule); but, you can still join anytime, and participate at your own pace. The replay videos are normally uploaded within a week of the live classes to the Amrita Virtual Academy website and all of the satsang commentaries are on-demand.

The Language of Love

The Language of Love

Amma’s love for mankind expresses itself in everything she does, both tangibly and intangibly. During the pandemic when so many devotees could not be in Amma’s physical presence, among other things, Amma offered them the gift of Amrita Virtual Academy, through which all her children can both learn something new as well as connect to her, the embodiment of Saraswati Devi, the Goddess of Learning.

Amma’s children long to be able to speak a few words to her in Malayalam, the language of love incarnate. This adds a new depth and dimension to their relationship with her. When they go for Darshan, Amma takes the pains to ask each one of them what their native language is, and blesses them in that language. 

Now, Amritabhaasha students look forward to reciprocating and being able to speak to Amma in her mother tongue when they see her next. In fact, many of them are already speaking to her in Malayalam in their hearts, during their daily prayers, and while practicing the course material. I am amazed by how much and how quickly they have picked up this admittedly difficult language in a relatively short period of time. Students have been writing dialogues and short essays in Malayalam, some of which we will be sharing on this blog. 

Click here to explore our Malayalam language course.

All of this has happened only through Amma’s grace. From the first time when she touched and blessed one of the slides, to the time when I showed her the lessons, and she smiled as she listened to the audio–– all of us have felt her grace and abundance in so many ways since those initial moments. It is only this grace that has carried us through the various phases of designing, implementing and teaching the course. 

Many students have shared that they feel deeply connected to Amma through the course. Like this, learning the language has become a labor of love, a Sadhana, moving from communication to communion with her. They say language builds bridges, and in Amma’s Love, learning Malayalam has become another way of connecting us Jivatmas to Amma, the Paramatma. 

( Jivatma – Individual soul. Paramatma – Supreme Self )

Amma knows all her children’s hearts. They don’t have to be long time devotees or impressive spiritual giants. I have an incident to share that proves the depth of her love and compassion. 

Once we were in Toulon, France, where the crowds that come to see Amma are huge. After three days of non-stop Darshan, Devi Bhava was coming to an end. We were lined up on both sides of Amma’s path waiting for her to come. There was a young boy standing next to me who was doing crowd control seva. He told me how much he admired the tour staff. He felt sad that maybe he did not have as much dedication or devotion to Amma, and that it hurt him in his heart. He pressed his hand to his heart. I consoled him saying all of us are equally devoted and Amma knows his heart. A few minutes later, Amma came down the steps. It had been a very long hectic Devi Bhava and I was hoping she would just walk straight to her camper. 

Of course I was wrong! Guess where she stopped? Right in front of that young boy standing next to me who had a pain in his heart. Her smiling brilliant radiant eyes looked at him full of compassion. She brought her right hand up to his heart, exactly where he had said there was a pain. Saying “Mone, mone”, she rubbed his heart for a while, gave him a hug and left. The boy stood there speechless. Tears of gratitude filled his eyes as he looked at me and said: “How does she do that? How did she know my heart was aching?” To an ordinary human being this may seem like a miracle, but for an Avatar like Amma who is One with all of creation, this is the only way it can be. All our thoughts run through her who is the Cosmic Self. And she blesses us with her love to heal the pain in our aching hearts. 

( Mone – Son )

I bow down to Amma, offering my deep gratitude to Her for allowing us to have a glimpse of and experience the fullness of her Immaculate Love, which is the nature of the Self.

Aum Amriteshwaryai Namah.

The Mother in Nature

The Mother in Nature

Recently, I noticed that one of our small rudraksha trees had vines growing on it. So I went over to the tree and started to remove the vine. At first I was feeling rushed and anxious to remove the vine and I was just trying to get the job done. But then I remembered that Amma said that each one of the rudraksha trees is her. I slowed down and began to carefully remove each vine, so as not to damage any of the rudraksha leaves in the process.

Suddenly, out of my heart I told the rudraksha, “I am your mother.”  And the tree responded back in my heart that she is my mother. And I was very surprised and said, “no I am your mother!” and again the tree answered in my heart saying, “I am your mother.” Then I realized how we are actually mothering each other. And the tree then whispered, “I will always give you rain.” In that moment a soft, gentle rain began to fall. And tears also fell from my eyes and I whispered back that “I will always give you my tears.” If only I could carry this feeling with me in everything that I do.

Want to learn more about gardening in the spirit of Amma’s teachings? Visit here.