Matrusri Anasuya Devi, widely known as Amma, Jillellamudi, unobtrusively has sown the seed of Annapurnalayam over half a century ago which became a giant tree giving sustenance to the physical and spiritual dimensions of untold number of beings.
Way back, during the early forties, Amma suggested a simple yet effective idea of organizing a rice bank at Jillellamudi. The womenfolk, when they cook food, are to take a fistful of rice and keep it apart. The rice was pooled with Amma. When any of the villagers had no work, they could withdraw their requirements from the bank which saved many souls from starvation.
Right from her infancy and childhood, a lot of seekers recognized divinity in Amma perceiving her unconditional compassion and her penchant for feeding. The number of people visiting Amma was constantly on the rise from the late fifties. In those days, Amma herself used to cook food and feed all the visitors irrespective of their numbers. The devotee children from Chirala requested Amma, “Mother, let there be a separate kitchen. Nannagaru’s financial resources are meager”. Mother granted their wish and accordingly Annapurnalayam was declared open on 15th August, 1958. Mother assured “This is Jagannadha Radham. Once started, it will not stop”.
“To feed you and look after you is my work”, Amma asserted, and her life was a living commentary on this singular ideal though she ate almost nothing right from her childhood.
Young Amma was in the habit of feeding with her own hands beggars, poor people and stray animals. When food was not available, she would give away whatever she had on hand money, jewelery and even clothes on her body.
But, throughout her life, Amma is known to have not taken food like the rest of us. “In this age of ‘Kali’ I do not feel hunger” was Amma’s enigmatic reply when people observing her not taking any food insisted that she eat. When food was offered before her as offered before the image of deity in a temple, Amma used to touch the offering with her fingers and take a few grains into her mouth. No sooner than she completed this ritual, she used to belch as if she had taken sufficient quantities of food. The offering which was sanctified by Amma’s touch or look was served as Maha prasadam in Annapurna layam.
Giving away food to those who are hungry is considered a great virtue and a meritorious deed. Amma, however, never felt that she was feeding others as an act of charity. She did not encourage the use of the phrase ‘Anna danam’ (donating food) and questioned how a mother feeding her children can be construed as a charitable deed. This concept of Amma is
not only unique and unparalleled but also not easy to understand, unless one appreciates the universal motherhood of Amma. What is more, this act of feeding is not limited only to human beings whom she regards as her children but extends even to the animals, birds, insects — why –all the creation. Once Amma said that she feels happy and content even by feeding grass to the cattle. Several brothers and sisters saw Amma feeling overjoyed feeding crows with crumbs of food.
The members of the household of the grandfather of Amma, Venkatasubbaiah were aghast when they came to know that young Amma handfed Ankalu, their servant. Likewise, Manthrayi, the household servant who belonged to a caste considered untouchable those days, was hand fed by Amma with food specially prepared for him. The same empathy
made young Amma to feed dogs, cats and even pigs from a very tender age.
Once Amma gave away a gold ornament to an old beggar as she could not find food readily for him. When the old man was flustered but could not resist accepting the ornament, she took him to a nearby bank, made him pledge the article and get money. The beggar, however, misused the money for taking a drink and purchasing meat. Later in the night, he was bitten by a snake and again it was Amma who rescued him. Significantly, Amma became savior of the beggar’s life though he misused the money. Amma kept demonstrating by such deeds in her life that it is the others’ need but not their merit that receives her grace, grace in the form of food. It is the hunger of the being to which she responds; physical hunger as also spiritual yearning, hunger of the individual soul to become one with the divine. Amma said that no other pain is as severe as the pangs of hunger. It is perhaps due to this, Amma with overflowing love towards the creation, sought to alleviate the suffering caused by hunger.
Once when Amma was in teens, she spent twenty two days in a Tamarind grove in her native village Manama without food or water. An old person, Moulali, who developed immense faith in Amma, keeps her company. During that period, Amma goes into transcendental states and bestows divine visions on Moulali. After coming out of the supra-conscious state, she feels very thirsty and when she stares intensely at the tamarind tree ahead, the trunk of the tree breaks with the sound ‘Om ‘yielding juice with which she quenches her thirst. Interestingly, at the same time, clouds gather and the first heavy showers of that season waters from heaven, pour on to the scorching earth and make the dying plant and animal kingdom regenerate. Even after the self imposed fast for such a length of time, Amma first seeks to feed Moulali with available fruits in the grove.
Invariably, the first question that Amma asked a newcomer to the ‘House of All’ was – “Have you taken your meals?’ Nothing seemed to please her so much as personally looking after arrangements for feeding the visitor. Mother commented humorously once: “You grow weak if you don’t eat, but I grow weak if I don’t feed.”
And between 1958 and now, on a conservative estimate, more than twelve million meals would have been served in Annapurnalayam. To a question “What is the qualification for taking food in Annapurna layam?” Mother clarified “Hunger”. Anyone hungry can walk
into Annapurnalayam and partake of the Maha prasadam served there, the visitor’s caste, creed, race, religion or gender becoming at once irrelevant.
Annapurnalayam feeds not only the spiritual seekers and visitor’s to Jillellamudi, but also caters to the food requirements of over two hundred indigent students, who pursue their education in Matrusri Oriental College and High School. There are nearly a hundred
Residents in the Ashram. Some of them are mentally challenged, some are financially weak, and some suffer from ailments of old age. Thus any contribution to Annapurnalayam is a contribution to a spiritual cause; it also has a great social content. Theists and atheists alike flocked to Amma’s feet, some attracted by her supreme divinity and compassion, others by the pinnacle of her humanism.
There are many people and organizations providing food to the hungry. In all these places, generous persons give away food to satiate the hunger of ‘others’. The motive is no doubt noble but in the act of ‘giving’, there is a giver from whom the less privileged receives. If the process of giving is not done without ego, then perhaps, the objective of giving may
not help the giver, though it might satisfy the physical hunger of the recipient. Here again, as the fine thread running through every teaching of Amma, the ‘Bhava’ assumes great importance.
“Eat what you have with contentment and share what you have with love and regard. And have faith that you are doing everything at his bidding” is the essential message of Amma.
.Amma equated contentment with liberation that is absolute contentment, a stage when you do not aspire for anything else. The contentment that comes from eating properly cooked, wholesome and sattvic food first offered to God and taken as prasad may be the first
step to reach that stage. Here, there are other psychological factors too. If we have to eat the food with relish, then the food has to be prepared in hygienic conditions in clean surroundings. The persons who cook will have to follow the science and art of cooking with care so that the cooked food will be delicious.
To drive home this fact, Amma used to say that the food in Annapurna layam has to be served with ‘loving attention’ as the side dish. While the physically visible food is the nourishment to the body, the loving attitude with which food is served is food for the soul. If we further examine this, we cannot fail to understand that the food for the soul is not only to the person who receives the food but to the giver or the person who serves with the right attitude.
If you start giving food with loving attention, gradually you will reach a stage when you cannot refrain from ‘not giving food’. It becomes a habit and a part of your personality. Over time, it will take you to the stage that you are feeding the ‘I’ in all. Thus the simple act of preparing and serving food with a proper attitude becomes the royal road for self realization. A Sadhana simple yet profound.
The facts regarding Annapurnalayam, the eternal kitchen read stranger than fiction. Annapurnalayam in Jillellamudi which is an out of the way village which does not have a regular bus service even today providing food for more than 12 million people in the last about 60 decades is a marvel. Even after the Maha Samadhi of Amma during 1985. Sri ViswajananiParishat, is carrying on all the activities initiated by Amma including free feeding. Annapurnalayam does not have agricultural lands to grow crops. The inflows of monies to the ‘Samstha’ are always in shortfall in comparison to the expenditure. No comfortable reserves are available to meet the ever-growing expenses to run the Annapurnalayam. Yet the gong which is sounded to invite the residents, college students, pilgrims and visitors never stopped sounding since Annapurnalayam was started and no one left Jillellamudi hungry. Thus Annapurnalayam and its maintenance remains an enigma like Amma. The mystery at work is revealed only when we approach them with humility.
Sadguru Sivasri Sivanandamurty of Anandavanam near Visakhapatnam holds Amma in high esteem. Sadguru visited Jillellamudi and suggested that Amma be worshiped with cooked rice. Accordingly. On every 12 June, on the day of Amma’s Maha Samadhi, the life-size image of Amma in Anasuya swaralayam is worshiped with mounds of cooked rice. The rice offered is served as prasadam to the multitudes who gather to participate in the event.
Sadguru Sivanandamurty declared that each grain of rice blessed by Amma is potent to redeem the soul from many cycles of birth and death. The prasadam is believed to contain everything…a remedy for the suffering, a solution to the problem, an answer to the question and aids in the fruition of a genuine aspiration. With the Annabhishekam ceremony, the generations who did not have the fortune of receiving prasadam from the hands of Amma can derive satisfaction and blessings through the consecrated rice prasadam that day.
Amma expressed her wish that every house should become an Annapurnalayam. The spirit has spread among Amma’s innumerable spiritual children and followers who offer food lovingly to visitors at their houses.
His Holiness Purnananda Swami has thrown open the ashram kitchen at Srisailam to all those who visit the ashram. Swamiji is considered by his disciples as an incarnation of Lord Siva. Significantly, Sri Purnananda Swami placed a life-size photo of Amma in the ashram dining hall and the consecrated food is served as Maha Prasadam.
As Amma named the eternal kitchen which provides food to everyone in the ‘House of All’ as Amma’s Prasadam as Annapurnalayam, the temple of goddess Annapurna millions of people who dine in Annapurna layam agree that Amma Anasuya Devi is none other than the goddess Annapurna.
Even skeptics and agnostics, after seeing the equality and brotherhood felt in the ‘House of All’ at Jillellamudi extolled that it is a role model for an ideal society. While the spiritually inclined are drawn by Amma’s divine traits, those who believe in serving the fellow beings are attracted by the sympathetic vibrations of Amma in feeding the masses to assuage their hunger through Annapurnalayam.
It is that spirit imbibed from Amma that spurred Sri Viswajanani Parishat to go out and help those in distress whether they are fire victims at Guntur flood victims in villages near Repalle or those affected by natural calamities.
During Amma’s sojourn on the earth, millions of people visited her. A large number came to her seeking her grace to remove their difficulties, cure diseases, for material prosperity, well- being etc.. Amma heard everyone with great compassion, gave ‘kumkum’ as Prasad and asked them to partake of food in the Annapurnalayam. While their genuine aspirations
were fulfilled, many experienced that what they sought might not always be granted always, but what they received – maybe in another dimension of their life is much more precious and fulfilling. What is fascinating is that material prosperity and spiritual progress are experienced by many after intake of a morsel of food blessed with the divine love of Amma.
During the Swarnotsava year (15th Aug 07 to 15th Aug 08) of Annapurnalayam, Sri Viswajanani Parishat organized Anna Prasada Vitharana (providing food as Amma’s prasadam) at over ninety centers in different parts of Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere.
It is significant that in foreign countries too Anna Prasada Vitharanaprogram has taken place with the initiative and involvement of long time devotee children of Amma.
The inauguration of a new spacious pucca building for Annapurnalayam is a long felt need of the spiritual children of Amma. It is hoped that this significant occasion will pave the way for many more millions of persons to visit Jillellamudi in the times to come and receive Amma’s grace through the ‘Maha Prasadam’.