Impressions on the Final Preparations
22 September 2003
As I came through customs at Cochin airport, the first thing I saw was Amma’s smiling face looking down on me from a huge advertisement for Amritavarsham50. She was there waiting for me in town: everywhere you go in Ernakulam there are posters of Amma embracing the world – hung from the lamp posts down the centre of the main streets or looming overhead on gigantic billboards. A year of preparation is now manifesting.
At the International Stadium, a new city, an Amritapuri is rising up. Previously neglected and falling into disrepair, an army of workers and volunteers are transforming the stadium to be ready for Wednesday. Temporary buildings, some larger than the auditorium at Amritapuri have been erected and everywhere people are working frantically to prepare and decorate them. Trucks arrive with loads of sand and stones; some are piled high with mats for flooring; everywhere there are piles of wood or concrete blocks. In front of the stadium itself towers a nearly life size replica of the front of the temple in Amritapuri – a forest of wooden poles lashed together and covered with acres of plywood painted pink. The domes are thin cloth stretched over a wooden frame.
Around the stadium volunteers queue up to register, arriving by the minute in busloads. Large numbers of police are milling around in their smart brown uniforms being drilled and briefed by their officers. The Assistant Commissioner of Police Surendran sits at his desk answering two phones simultaneously. 3,500 policemen, 300 officers and 100 senior officers will be on duty. They have come from all over Kerala to safeguard the devotees and dignitaries and also to handle the traffic. They are prepared for anything. With so many dignitaries including the President of India present at the Celebrations, security has to be tight. CCTV surveillance will be operating inside and outside the stadium. The police aim to check every single person who enters the stadium.
By the side of the road I see an army of plaster Devi statues lying side by side waiting for their finishing touches. They will be contributing to the atmosphere of the event. They have been conjured out of coconut fibre and plaster of paris and moulded by skilled artisans. The effect is magical—they will be installed on the facades of the different halls around the site. Under a makeshift tent, another group of workers were painting two model lions and the horses for Arjuna’s chariot using the same method. They are to be hoisted up onto the facade of the Amritapuri temple.
Behind the stadium cavernous tents have been erected to act as kitchens. Mountains of shiny new metre-wide pots are waiting to feed the 100,000 plus devotees who are on their way. Mountains of vegetables of all shapes and sizes are being chopped to pieces by a sea of ladies in brightly coloured saris to make lunch—and this is lunch only for those who have come to help, who already number several thousand. One tent contains banks of computers and monitors on every side for the team who will constantly update Amritavarsham.org and broadcast the live webcast.
Everything is on a momentous scale. Everywhere there is a sense of excitement, anticipation and chaos. Wherever you look, swamis and brahmacharis are talking busily on their mobile phones. How will it all come together? It is not long before Amma and thousands upon thousands of Her devotees will come through the main gate to begin the Celebrations. Devotees, dignitaries and press representatives are pouring in from all over the world. Somehow, through Amma’s divine grace, everything will be ready to begin this tremendous event. Only two days to go!
– Mike Sofroniou