A four-day spiritual extravaganza to celebrate the 50th birthday of India's most revered holy woman Mata Amritanandamayi began at Kochi with a Ganapati Homa on Wednesday morning.
Devotees of all nationalities queued up around the four sides of a specially prepared yagnasala with folded hands at the Jawaharlal Nehru International stadium. Even as a team of priests from India and Europe offered the ceremonial Vedic fire to Lord Ganesha, Amma's followers sang the songs in praise of her.
The religious ceremony was led Reverend Takeda Hakusai, representative and senior disciple of Sakai Yuusai Dai-Ajari of Heizan Enryakuji from Japan. Following the Ganapati rites, Amritanandamayi led a flag-raising ceremony inside the giant stadium.
In an interfaith worship that followed, a number of top religious leaders attended. They included Shankaracharya Mahaswami of Sri Ramachandrapura Math, Hosanagar, Karnataka, Reverend Hakeda Hakusai, a Tendai Buddhism leader and Rabbi Leah Novick Pathfinder of Jewish Renewel Movement in the United States.
In his speech, Reverend Hakusai said that what is needed in the world today is not the belief in any exclusive God, but rather the recognition of the divine life power underlying all things.
"A mind that strives to see the divine inherent in all manifest things is fertile soil to realise the Buddhist principle that every living being contains a seed of the Buddha," he said.
Hakusai said the finest words of the role of religions in connecting man and nature have come from Amritanandamayi herself: "Religion is the link that binds mankind to Nature. Religion removes the ego in man, enabling him to know and experience his oneness with Nature."
The Shankaracharya spoke of Amritanandamyi as a divine creation. "A mother without a vision of a guru is blind. A guru without a heart of a mother is lame. A mother without the vision of a guru may help the child to grow only physically, but not mentally. People will scare away from a guru, who does not have heart of a mother," Shankaracharya Mahaswami said.
In the next four days, Amritanandamayi's birthday celebrations will be a confluence of cultures and nationalities as hundreds of thousands of her devotees have come down to the coastal city in Kerala.
Officially Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani will inaugurate the celebrations on Wednesday evening. But an array of cultural and spiritual programmes is on simultaneously at various stages and the two giant auditoriums specially created at the stadium.
The highlights of the celebrations are going to be four historic summits that the Mata
Amritanandamayi Math is hosting. They are: an interfaith summit with the themes of 'Religions Embracing for Peace & Harmony'; a women summit known as 'Embracing Universal Motherhood for Peace & Harmony'; a CEO summit called 'CEOs and Business Leaders Embracing the World for Peace & Harmony' and a youth summit named 'The Future Generation Embracing Selfless Service for Peace & Harmony'.