Childhood and Early Years

Amma's Childhood & Early Years

Amma had no feelings of strangeness when She came into this world. Everything was so utterly familiar to Her, and when one knows everything about the world one can only smile. When one beholds the entire universe as a play of Consciousness, what else can one do but smile?—Amma

Amma’s Childhood

She was Sudhamani – Amma was born in a poor fishing village in Kerala, Southern India, in 1953. Her father sold fish to make a living. Her mother relates that the child wasn’t born crying as babies usually are, but with a beaming smile on Her face. She was given the name Sudhamani (Ambrosial Jewel).

Even as a small child, it was clear that She was unique. At six months She could walk and talk, and by the age of three She was constantly singing. By the age of five She was composing beautiful, extraordinarily profound hymns to Her beloved Krishna.

Sudhamani charmed and delighted everyone around Her. But as She grew, Her divine moods, including frequent meditative states, singing, and ecstatic dancing beside the seashore, began to annoy Her family. At the early age of five Sudhamani was already subjected to severe scoldings.

When Sudhamani was nine, Her mother became ill. Although Sudhamani was the brightest girl in Her class, She had to leave school and take care of Her entire family. It was a gruelling task, with seven brothers and sisters to feed and clothe, and animals to tend. She virtually became the family servant, working from before dawn till midnight.

Amma's ChildhoodAs part of Her work She had to collect food for the family cows. She would roam the local villages, gathering grass and visiting neighborhood homes to ask for vegetable peels and leftover rice gruel for the cows. At times like these, She saw many things that troubled Her. She saw how some people were starving, while others had more than enough. She saw that many people were sick and suffering from intense pain, unable to afford a single painkiller. And She noticed that many of the elderly were neglected and treated harshly by their own families. Her empathy was such that the pain of others was unbearable to Her. Though just a child, She began to contemplate the question of suffering. She asked Herself, why do people suffer? What is the underlying cause of suffering? And so powerfully did She feel the presence of God within Her that She wanted to reach out and comfort and uplift those who were less fortunate than She.

In many ways, it was then that Amma’s mission began. She would share Her food with the starving, and She would bathe and clothe the elderly who had no one to look after them. She was punished when She gave away the family’s food and belongings to the poor, but Sudhamani would not stop Her acts of kindness. She took refuge in the solitude of the night, spending hours meditating and fervently praying to Lord Krishna.

During the day She carried his photo in Her blouse pocket and constantly sang His names. During Her early teens, Sudhamani was sent to the houses of relatives where She laboured for long hours, taking care of their households as well. Throughout all her duties She was incessantly singing and chanting Krishna’s name, and imagined that all the work she did was for him. Sweeping the yard, she imagined that he could arrive at any moment. As she prepared food she imagined that Krishna would appear as a guest at the table. In this way she never resented her duties, nor the abuse her family gave her, but only prayed to be given more of the Lord’s work.

Amma’s Early Years

Amma says:

Amma Absorbed in Divine BlissFrom birth itself I had an intense love for the divine name. I would repeat the Lord’s name incessantly with every breath, and a constant flow of divine thoughts was kept up in my mind irrespective of the place I was or the work I was attending to.

At the tender age of five she used to sing beautiful songs on her beloved Lord. Often she went into the woods, to sit alone and meditate. Or, during normal childhood play she might stop and become withdrawn and meditative. Her parents would scold her for not being playful. They wanted her to fit in with the other children with the village. The family was also disturbed by her constant singing and chanting, and it bothered them that her lips were constantly moving, as if she was talking to herself. This was odd behavior for a small child, and they feared that she had some mental illness. The family didn’t understand that Sudhamani’s lips were moving in silent prayers.

Amma as a girl

Because of Sudhamani’s dark skin, and her strange, unchildlike behavior, she was viewed by her parents as inferior to the other children. Her schooling ended when she was nine and she had to take care of the domestic work full-time. In addition to the arduous job of looking after her own family, she served the elderly, the poor and sick neighbors with love and care. Her parents were horrified to see her mingle with untouchables and forbade her to give away any more of their food, but she continued to do so despite their punishments. Some villagers called her “the crazy girl” given that she worked and sang in longing worship, often slipping into profound God-intoxicated states. Amma never had a spiritual mentor or guru, nor was she exposed to philosophical books. Her unmistakable Self-realization and wisdom seemed to spark from a constant remembrance of God.