As a child, Amma never used to accept anything at its face value. Her habit of questioning elders about the meaning of conventional beliefs and practises must have struck many as being highly precocious. One day she visited the Bhavanarayana Temple in Bapatla along with some of her young friends and stayed on there after the others had left to play. She approached anyone who would listen to her – a learned Acharya (scholar), a relation of her’s, several devotees – and asked them a variety of questions about the worship that they were performing of the deity; ”Why are coconuts broken before the idol?... Is the stone image itself God? Where do the idol and its ornaments come from?” Nobody had satisfactory answers and most simply brushed aside her enquiries saying that there was no need for a young girl to concern herself with such serious affairs. When Amma brought in some flowers and Tulasi leaves for worshipping the deity and placed them temporarily on the ground in front of her, the temple priest become upset and cried out, “Why have you placed these on the earth when they are meant to be offered to the goddess? Don’t you know that this is sacrilege?” “These plants have themselves sprouted from the earth. Was that also a sacrilege?” she countered wryly. The priest did not answer. Perhaps he had no answer to give. Later on Amma went into the inner sanctum for a closer look at the deity. The priest did not notice her there and unintentionally locked Amma inside the temple when he left for the night. She took advantage of this situation to approach the image of the goddess and examine it with a clinical thoroughness. She removed the eye coverings from the idol and found no eyes but only stone underneath. Then she undressed the image, removed all of the ornaments, felt the sticky colour painted on the stone. She tried to move the image of the Goddess, but it wouldn’t budge and when she called out aloud to it the idol remained mute. All the while she was wondering to herself, “Is this idol of stone really God or is God something else? The image looks altogether different without the ornaments…Are the ornaments God? Is the one who recognizes divinity in idol God? Or, perhaps the earth itself is God; the earth which is source of all these (idol, ornaments, worshippers, etc.,), the source of All That Is, perhaps that earth is the True Deity worthy of our worship!” She picked up a handful of soil and addressed it thus, “Mother! They are worshipping all of the things that are born of you, grow up in you, and merge again back into you, but they are neglecting you. Why don’t you make them recognize you?” “You tolerate patiently when plowed or trampled underfoot. You calmly bear the good and the bad without making any distinction between the two… Though they slaughter your own dear children and make your tender body spill with blood; though they break your heart with axes, still you do not condemn them, you do not abuse them, and you will never punish them. On the contrary, even the wicked you take upon your lap to comfort and refresh.” Overcome with anguish, she looked at the soil in her open palm in silence for a time. “Why this Forbearance? Who will recognize your Magnanimity? Who could enter into your boundless heart of Compassion?” she questioned out lord and then was silent for a few moments. Then she added softy, “Yes truly, it is not for anyone’s sake, it is not for anyone’s praise that you are so. It is your very nature, your Dharma (Law), the expression of your heart of hearts, so generous, wide and pure. In that broad heart there is a place only for the eternal, surging nectar-tide of kindness and love.” Filled with gratitude, she fell prostrate on the ground as if to embrace the all-embracing earth, to bind it firmly in heart and arms. Again she said, “Mother! How sacred is your life of unparalleled selflessness. How divine a life so full of Sacrifice and Universal Love. Therefore I address you as the Great Mother of the Universe. I name you the Supreme Goddess of Forbearance and Patience. I wish for all people to worship you alone. I desire that all should adore you day in and day out.” We can read these words in praise of the earth as Mother’s indirect commentary on her own life and mission. The earth is a living embodiment of those qualities of long suffering endurance and selfless giving which Mother has come to manifest in the human world. While it is said of other Avatars that they incarnated to protect the righteous, to spread spirituality and destroy the wicked, Mother denies that there are any such goals in her own case. Her’s is not the limited task of protecting some and destroying others. As Mother, she is capable only of clasping one and all, the virtuous and the wicked alike, in her redeeming embrace of Love.

Richard Schiffman
Matrusri Monthly Journal (English) | Vol.13 | February 1979 | No.11