When I first visited my mother. I saw her being worshipped by a girl, with puffed rice. She sat still all the time, the rice rising above her knees and filling her lap. There was however, no feeling on her face pertaining to the worship that was going on. I observed the same detachment on all other occasions, when kumkum, flowers or leaves were employed to worship her.
Devotees bow before her feet and touch her toes with their foreheads.. Even while sitting on her cot with folded legs, if one offers to make a namaskar, she uncovers her feet and joins them. They reverentially touch the feet and touch them with their foreheads.
I was rather confused at that moment to see that sight. I read that the great sage Ramana always discouraged visitors from attempting to bow to his feet or to touch them. When a gentleman who visited him offered to massage his rhuem – ridden ankles ‘to acquire merit’, that sage said that if merit were to be acquired that way, he would himself acquire merit that day by massaging ‘swamy’s legs himself! Another Baba I saw, would affectionately hold the hands of the devo tees before they touched his feet, carefully withdra wing to avoid the catch. I learnt also that a very popular teacher of vedanta refused to allow the worship of his feet when a lady requested him. And when the fair devotee insisted on being allowed to do, he prescribed a condition that all the time, she should look at the feet only and never at his face. The ordeal being over, he closetted himself in a room for an hour, to get over the memory or to pray for divine indulgence for his impersonation. With such experi ence as my background, I could not place mother’s toleration nay accommodation for the worship of her feet in my understanding of divine beings.
In all the temples, we see the figure of the Lord-whether anthropomorphic, amphibian or sym bolic worshipped with flowers, kumkum, pearls etc. The worshipper does the worship without hoping for any gesture of response, touches the feet of the figure with his forehead if allowed to do so, or bows from a distance to signify that kind of supplication, and goes back after taking theertham or prasadam. We find the same happening at Jillellamudi. The devotee worships here, not a stone-image but a human form. So far as the devotee is concerned, if he is sincere, this difference should not matter. Fortunately for him, he has to pay no fee, need not bring any fruit, flower or money,- I carried none when I first went there- he many not offer anything to her, he need not even pay adoration to her but only to the deity of his belief-as I did myself while bowing. He can himself make any offer without the mediation of a poojaari, and take theertham and prasaadam from her directly. There is no compulsion, no condition, no convention. One can worship just as he would like to.
The idea behind any offering made to God can only be, (1) that it is gratitude for his munificent grant of our needs- food, clothinig, ornaments etc. (2) a devotional offering of what we enjoy in this world to the Lord- our benefactor, (3) a grateful remembrance of His kindness symbolised in the several things we enjoy. Leaf, flower, fruit or liquid, the tradition il objects of offering come under one of these categories. (Leaves symbolise the comforts obtained from plants though in temples we see betel leaves alone offered). Here at Jillellamudi all fruits and food material, flowers and leaves, cosmetic material etc are used for worship. I remember having read the story of a veerasaivite saint worshipping a linga with pebbles and stones to avoid the wrath of contemporary Jains, who believed neither in a God-head nor in his worship. They however spared him taking him to be a lunatic, as otherwise he would not use stones for flowers! One day, the worshipper carried to the shrine a big boulder to serve for all the offering for the remaining days of his dee ksha, as he apprehended some intervention from his opponents. The Lord, it is reported, held his hand before the boulder was released, and blessed him. Clearly then, it is the devotee’s faith that matters, not the material used for worship. Here at Jillellamudi, quite a number of visitors are seen bursting into tears when sitting before mother. A flushed face, quivering of the lower lip, and bursting into tears are quite a common sight for visitors to Mother. It is known that devotees visiting vighneswara beat their cheeks as a sign of having erred, and we can see this in other tem ples too. Bursting into tears is a step further, and this happens in Mother’s presence.
Even the particular form the devotee chooses for worship is not of importance, when devotion is there. Markandeya did not choose the figure of Siva holding his trident as his refuge, when Yama assailed him: nor did Kannappa look for the fulsome figure of the Lord, when he discovered a lone Linga in the jungle. The shrines of Siva at Vyaghresvaram and Aachanta in the west Godavary district have very odd tales to tell about the present day symbols of Siva existing there. The idol is just a symbol, an attribute of the Lord as the great Keshav Chandra recognised. “There is a large possibility for nigraha” of disturbing influ ences, “when one chooses a vigraha for worship”, as Mother put it in one of her sayings. So, as long as an idol stands for the Lord, it does not matter what it actually is. A pyramid of saffron, a cocoanut placed on a kalasa, a geometrical figure drawn on rice, on stone or the wall, a stone figure, a wooden peg, an unseemly boulder, a printed paper, photograph, or human being, any thing can stand as a symbol for the prop of the universe.
Symbol? Yes a symbol. Mother sits quietly in a chair with her feet or figure serving as a symbol. “While they do the pooja, the devotees address them selves – not to me but to a Rajarajesvari, Parvati, Krishna or the form of their choice” said Mother. She is only accommodating them. She is helping them to direct their attention to the deity of their belief. She does not believe that they are worshipping her as Ana suyamma but only as the deity of their belief. So, in her understanding, it is not her feet they are worshipping.
One Krishnabhikshu, who stayed at Jillella mudi for a couple of years, wrote to her on his sixteith birthday: ‘Sixty years of my life rolled on, Mother, and yet I have not been able to achieve my objective. If you too are unkind to me and forsake me Mother, I am, doomed”. As a reply to this, Mother got a question sent to him. “would the feet you grasped with devotion so many times fail to save you?” I reflected for a moment on this reply. “Whose feet these that are referred to could be!” Krishnabhikshu had stayed with Maharshi Ramana for quite a few years, but the Maharshi was known to have always prohibited the worship of his feet, and even grasping them with respect. So, the feet that Krishnabhikshu grasped so many times could not be Maharshi’s. They were Mother’s feet and she refers to them as “those feet!” Krishnabhikshu grasped them with devotion several times during his stay at Jillellamudi, addressing however the deity he believed in. “Would not those feet savé you?” asked Mother. In her feeling, they were the feet of the deity whom Krishnabhikshu believed. What then is odd in accommodating the worshippers to revere the Lord they believed, and why need a Ramana or other sage run away from men? He aught men to seek to know the self in them, and he might have intended that they should not fail to worshipping another, but even if he allowed men to worship him, he would not be any other than the self. So long as there is not the feeling of identifying oneself with the body, one remains unconcerned with any worship that might b going on. Persons may say with their lips that they are unconcerned while yet enjoynig the high position that is apparent. This satisfaction would be out-like murder-one time or other. But the point here stressed is that it is possible for a perso to be unconcerned about a worship done to his feet, and that the Mother at Jillellamudi is one such we know now.
Mother however does not “get into a samadhi state” during the worship. She is conscious of what is going on. A flower falls down from the palms of the worshipper or a fruit falls on the ground before being offered to her. The devotee says “alas!”. Mother immediately intervenes between him and his worry, saying “That does not matter. They come only from the ground, don’t they?” She picks up that flower and wears it in her hair, and eats the fruit that has fallen down! A cocoanut is broken and it reveals a spongy ball instead of the welcome kernal; a betel leaf intended for the worship shows an insect dragging up its ugly length up along that leaf. Mother takes the unexpected ball to her mouth and clears the worry saying, “the insect can stay. There is no harm!” A worshipper hesitates to smear sandal paste to her hands or feet (she is another’s wife! how can he touch her hands?). Mother smiles as if laughing at his delusion, and says “hands or feet just as you intend (in your worship)”. A widow wrings her hands not knowing if she could also offer worship. (It is well known that according to the social coventions obtaining, a widow will have nothing to do with a housewife except receive her namaskar if the latter happens to be her very young kin, taking leave of her). Mother says, ‘Come, you can do your worship, as you like. ‘Any procedure, whether traditional or personal, can be adopted by the worshipper. There are no do’s and don’ts at Jillellamudi. One can often hear her telling intending worshi ppers to have their meal (in the free dining hall provided) and come back for the worship. No parti cular place nor posture is preferred, not even the moment of worship. “The mental attitude is all that matters” says Mother, to clear the doubts of uninformed worshi ppers. It is not untrue to say that it is only the devotion that is missing in temple nowadays. Waiting, crow ding, payments, even bribes for earlier entry, destroy. the idea of God-head in the idol, the sanctity of the waters of a river or sea, the reverence to a purohit or well-wisher of the family. Condition are all elimnated at Jillellamudi and devotion is free to act as it would! Mother’s intervention is only to this end.
Occasionally, when a devotee bursts into tears, mother caresses his head with a soft touch and con soles him. It may be a surprising feature, but a common sight at Jillellamudi, that devotees weep, sometimes sob, before Mother. Like a kind mother she consoles them with words, touch, and a handfeed of a fruit or prasaadam, whatever their age may be.
There is no need for a visitor to Mother to necessarily do any worship. No need to offer her any fruits or flowers if one does not choose. But she does the mother’s part, loads our hands with fruit or prasaadam when we go to her to take leave! One can go without taking leave, I myself did so the second time I went there, as she was resting. It makes no difference in her attitude, the attitude of the Great Mother! The wonderful Mother at Jillellamudi!