Venkappanna, Master Chef

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In the early 1990s I offered seva in Annapurna kitchen at Shree Muktananda Ashram. One day there was a special meal, and the cooks made a dish with many gallons of milk. There were empty bottles and milk crates all around. I was on my way to eat lunch when Venkappanna approached me and said, “You are a manager in the kitchen. Look at this mess! Do something.” Although I was not a kitchen manager, I took responsibility. I got to work rinsing each bottle, placing the bottles in the crates, and mopping the floor.

I had just finished as Venkappanna returned from lunch. He saw that everything was tidy and asked if I had cleaned that area. I said “yes.” And then he asked if I had eaten lunch, and I said “no.” With a big smile he invited me to eat some special food he had prepared. It was the most delicious food you can imagine, filled with love. I felt very accepted and loved. I am grateful to Venkappanna for his way of teaching me about the attitude one should have when offering seva.
 

Mexico City, Mexico

Many years ago I was in Gurudev Siddha Peeth with my daughter, who was 18 months old at the time. One day we waved goodbye to Gurumayi, who was going on a teachings visit to the West. My little daughter was sad that Gurumayi was leaving, and she cried and cried. But Venkappanna had prepared a special farewell meal for all of us. When my daughter took her very first taste of this lunch, she started to beam. And when I took my first bite, it was like a magical meal. It tasted divine. My daughter happily ate and ate, seeming to gulp down large quantities of food. She seemed to be in bliss. Venkappanna came and watched her. I wondered if I should try to stop her from eating so much, but he looked at her happily and told me to just let her. With a very sweet and pleased smile he watched her for a while, and then he went on his way.
 

Frabertsham, Germany

I didn’t meet Venkappanna in person, but I remember hearing about him during visits to Shree Muktananda Ashram. I lived on Long Island at the time and visited often. I remember the day it was announced that he had passed away. Earlier in the day I was out driving, and while I was far from the Ashram, I looked in its direction as I often did. I saw, arching across the sky between the Ashram and what I imagined was the Hudson River, a beautiful and vivid rainbow. The knowledge that Venkappanna had passed away popped into my head though I had not yet heard this news. I felt a great blessing was being bestowed on all of us -- one of beauty, equanimity, and certainty.

 

Florida, United States

In Gurudev Siddha Peeth in the late 1980s, I had the great fortune of offering seva in the kitchen where Venkappanna was chef. It was so sweet to roll out chapatis with a few Indian women and a couple of children there. Venkappanna would come in and watch us with immeasurable sweetness.
 
Each evening, Venkappanna took the leftover chapatis to the calves in the cow barn. One day, a favorite wish of mine came true when I was invited to help feed the cows. I'll never forget the tender experience of feeding the Ashram's young cows, thanks to Venkappanna's permission.
 
A sense of quiet joy, sweet blessings, astute intelligence, and perhaps a touch of mischievousness emanated from him and one couldn't help but feel the heart touched by his presence. His great love for the Guru shone in his face and all of his being.
 

California, United States

In early 1993 Venkappanna visited the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in Brisbane. A group of us went with him for a picnic in a park on the outskirts of the city. One remarkable thing about that picnic was the number of birds that came and perched on the limbs of the many gum trees in our area of the park. Every branch had a half dozen or more birds of different species just sitting adjacent to each other in stillness and quietness. I have never seen anything like it before or since.
 

Melbourne, Australia

I did not meet Venkappanna ji, but his face shines with so much love and tenderness that my eyes are moist with gratitude—as though I am meeting him now. I find myself thanking him for teaching me by example how to serve with great love, steadfastness, easefulness, and humility.
 

Versoix, Switzerland

Gurumayi once sent Venkappanna to San Diego to share his great knowledge and love of cooking. The first teaching Venkappanna gave us was one he’d learned from Baba: God is in food. When you offer food to others, you are offering God.
 
That deeply resonated with me. I recalled my earliest relationship with preparing food when I was five: standing next to my grandmother at her wood-burning stove, watching her prepare fried potatoes, listening to her explain each step, and then following her example. I still recall the joy I felt in preparing those fried potatoes for my family to share. Somehow I understood this was an offering.
 
Venkappanna first did puja to the fire, explaining the dharma of this puja. Then, after telling us, say, how Baba loved a certain sweet, he’d teach us to cook kheer. I still have and use the recipes Venkappanna gave us that day.
 
I hold that experience of Venkappanna inside. It is my guide to the dharma of preparing and offering food.
 

California, United States

I had the good fortune of spending time with Venkappanna in the kitchen, of helping him cook as he offered seva to the Guru. One highlight for me was visiting the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland, where he gave a cooking class and showed us how to prepare six of Baba's favorite dishes. The combination of the delicious food, the lovely aromas, and the divine shakti of the Ashram is a heavenly memory that I will never forget.
 
Most of all, I remember Venkappanna as a great servant of the Guru. It was so clear to me that he loved offering seva. 
 

California, United States

In 1990 I had the great good fortune of offering seva with Venkappa in the Gurudev Siddha Peeth kitchen. At that time the Ashram was crowded with thousands of people, and full of activity everywhere. But in the kitchen, because of Venkappa's presence, the atmosphere was very sweet and serene.
 
He was there every day, cooking for everybody as if he were preparing his breakfast at home, undisturbed and completely centered. I never saw him agitated or angry; he was always in a great mood, full of love and sweetness. I really enjoyed his presence and energy.
 
One day he called me to the back of the kitchen. He handed me a plate, whispering, "Gurumayi's prasad—take it." I gladly accepted and relished the gift, experiencing a great rush of shakti through my whole being.
 
When my visit came to an end, I went to him to say goodbye. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me, smiled, and kissed my hands. I feel very fortunate to have met such a great being.
 

Valencia, France