There is this inexplicable feeling of peace when one walks into a room with her. Maybe it is her loving smile, the twinkle in her eyes or just the aura of calmness surrounding her, but Shivanandamayi amma always manages to make you feel good about yourself when you talk to her. Formerly named Bhavani by her parents, this young lady in her early twenties has dedicated her life to social service.
Giving up materialistic pleasures at an age when her peers were attending college, getting married and basking in the glory of youth, she dedicated herself to sadhana (Social Service under a vow). She associated herself with Nachiketa Tapovan, a non-profit, voluntary organization dedicated towards spirituality and social service.
Sitting in the modestly designed office of a new branch of the Tapovan, in a serene area in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad one realizes how dedicated she is towards her life’s purpose. Offering me a light snack of buttered toast, she shares with me a humorous episode in the nearby slum. On this light hearted note, I question, “How did you feel, dedicating yourself to service? Were there many sacrifices?” “Where does the question of sacrifice emerge when I love what I do? As a teenager, I used to be very spiritual and enjoyed learning yoga from my gurus. Now, I demonstrate whatever techniques of life-enhancement I have learnt through yoga, to whoever feels the need to visit Tapovan. I feel happy here. Guruji always says, ‘Knowledge is much higher than a life of enjoyment ‘, she answers passionately. But catching my eye that wanders to her shaved-off hair, the rudraksh clasped in her hand and her orange robes, typical of a sanyasi, she says with a laugh, “I do not care about outwardly appearances, if that is what you mean by sacrifice. Long hair or flashy dresses are not needed for the essence of my existence.”
It is amazing to listen to her talk about her day’s work that includes balancing the everyday functioning of the Tapovan, entertaining donors, organizing ‘snehamilans’ or ‘satsangs’ (good-natured gatherings where people meet up to discuss about each other’s lives) conducted by Swamiji, the head of Tapovan with the technicalities of setting up the Tapovan School for slum children. “Just yesterday I went to Laxmanna. I feel so helpless to see him crushed under his burden of supporting a family of eight with the meager income he gets as the watchman of an apartment. All these people want, is someone who will listen to them…” Shivanandamayi amma visits these slums everyday to spread awareness of the Tapovan School as a part of her campaign against ignorance towards education. ‘Arise! Awake! And stop not till the goal is reached!’ she types the words of Swami Vivekanada,the motto of the Tapovan, in telugu and prints out pamphlets with her equally sincere assistants.
“One has to make an effort. We have to make these slum dwellers interested in educating each of their children. If you have the faith in your purpose, they will listen to you.” She goes on about the Tapovan School, which is attaining funds from donors in Hyderabad and is soon to be equipped with 10 more computers, a library and a proper uniform for the enrolled kids. It is a topic close to her heart. Another subject that she is passionate about is the art of yoga.Trained in the Indian School of Yoga, she believes in the importance of a proper guru for enlightenment. “Today, in the commercialization of this art, the number of frauds in the field is many. One must be cautious about them. It is these frauds who cheat foreigners and degrade the reputation of this art abroad.” she said, recalling a bitter experience in a renowned Institute of Yoga.
After this candid chat, as I walk, inspired, towards the exit, a couple of 8 year olds in tattered clothes ask me her whereabouts. As I guide them to Shivanandamayi amma’s office, the kids’ faces light up and they run inside, presenting her a bunch of fresh flowers and say, “For our favorite teacher!” She looks up at me and gives me a smile that says, “This is what I meant when I said I feel internally happy here.”
[Image source :http://www.flickr.com/photos/ldcross/2164848567/]