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Jayanti Tamm Photo Gallery #1


Taken by my father, this was the most famous picture of Sri Chinmoy with me. He published it on the jacket of some of his books, used it for public relations purposes, and many disciples had it framed upon their shrines. I was about four months old at the time. Guru was always very forceful, even with his blessings. Since he never had children of his own, he was loving, yet rough, like a small child with an animal. In this photo, he was making sure that I was receptive to his blessings. Named by Guru as “The Transcendental,” all disciples were required to purchase this photo and meditate on it at least once a day. Guru claimed, and most disciples believed, that this photo had enormous powers and that by praying to it his disciples would be saved, protected, and enlightened. This is one of the earliest pictures after Guru’s arrival in America in 1964 from Bangladesh. He is standing with his Canadian ‘consort,’ Alo Devi. They look like a newly married couple here with their garlands, ready to set up shop as a Guru and his first lady. When I was a baby, whenever Guru would see me, he would hold me tightly and give me a blessing, expecting me to respond to him. As usual at that time, Alo Devi was right beside him.
My earliest memory was of my birthday. Here I am dressed in my sari, seated with my parents and my brother, Ketan, as Guru and Alo pour on the blessings. Ketan, clearly, was more interested in the cake than in the blessings. It was hard to resist. My earliest memory was of my birthday. Here I am dressed in my sari, seated with my parents and my brother, Ketan, as Guru and Alo pour on the blessings. Ketan, clearly, was more interested in the cake than in the blessings. It was hard to resist. Shortly after Guru arrived in America, he began recruiting disciples. His ultimate goal was to have tens of thousands of obedient followers. This is an early public meditation designed to bring in new disciples. The female disciples were all draped in saris, while the males wore whites. Guru bought his first house in Queens, New York, which became the site of his ashram. We spent much time at his house, and here Guru is taking me on a walk around the block, steadying me, ensuring that I didn’t fall. For a permanent meeting site, the disciples purchased an abandoned church in Bayside, New York, which became Guru’s hub for years. On the alter Dias sat two sacred thrones—one for Guru and one for Alo. At most every meditation, Guru would call me up to the throne and bless me.
My family was never the traditional American family. The point of our family was to serve Guru; everything was about Guru. He made all the rules; he made all the decisions. My parents raised my brother and me for Guru and Guru alone. My parents were never in charge of us—Guru was. Alo Devi was Guru’s consort. I was brought up to believe that she, like Guru, was a God-Realized soul and needed to be obeyed and worshipped. It wasn’t until I was about to enter junior high that I was told a very different story about Alo. Long before Guru began his controversial stunts of weightlifting elephants, airplanes, and celebrities, Guru lifted me. When Guru was pleased with me, meaning when I obeyed him perfectly, Guru showered me with love and affection. He called me his “victory” and his “good girl.” My family were the caretakers of Sri Chinmoy’s Connecticut Center. We lived above the meditation room. The entire house was a Guru museum. When my father bought this bust of Guru and built a shrine for it in our backyard, I immediately was afraid of the statue, and I avoided going near it and worried that at night it would come after me. My brother, Ketan, was three years older than me. I eagerly followed him, partaking in his schemes, acting in his theatrical productions, and striving to know everything that he did. He always kept his eye on his little sister, the Chosen One.
At one point in time, all of my father’s three siblings were disciples. This photo, taken in Sri Chinmoy’s church in Bayside, is of my father, his mother (who always was opposed to her children being disciples), Ketan, Akuti (the head of the Connecticut Center and a second grandmother to me because she lived above us on the third floor), me, my mother, Chandika, my father’s sister, and her former husband, Chirantan. Our living room had one piece of furniture—Guru’s throne. We were not allowed to sit in it, play on it, or even touch it. All of Guru’s objects were sacred. Guru always sat in special thrones while the disciples sat upon the floor. Every Monday night, Guru came to hold meditations where my family lived, in the Connecticut Center. It began with a few seekers and continued to grow until the disciples could no longer fit inside. Guru told my father to become a lawyer. After law school, my father set up a small office in Darien. Guru inaugurated the office with an official blessing and visit and took some time to give a deposition to Ketan and myself. After charming Guru into bending his rules about not having pets, I received permission to get a rabbit. Munu, my beloved bunny, received from Guru an official spiritual name.
Quite early after setting up his cult, Guru decided that he needed to have an army of personal body guards, so he designated select male disciples as ‘guards.’ The guards were given specific rank and a uniform. They were charged with keeping people away from Guru. No one could freely approach Guru. Among Guru’s many obsessions were winning the Nobel Prize, and being thin. When Guru dropped to his lowest recorded body weight, he proudly took a series of photos which he sold to the disciples. This photo Guru proclaimed proved that he had won the “No-belly Prize.” Guru was always seeking the attention of celebrities and politicians. Among the many famous people whom he wanted to meet, Mikhail Gorbachev, was high on the list. Eventually, after a long courtship and many donations, Guru and Gorbachev began a relationship that continued for years. On an early January morning in 1987, Guru claimed to have lifted 7,063 pounds overhead with one arm. It was touted as a miracle. Disciples celebrated and the media was alerted to the miracle lift. When doubts were raised, the doubters were silenced. Each night, after the meditation, disciples in Guru’s elite inner circle were invited to Guru’s house. Receiving an invitation to Guru’s house was a coveted honor; it meant that the disciple was special and important. It was used to create a class system of those who were closest to Guru and those who weren’t. This photo was on one of my birthdays in Guru’s living room.
Although this looks like my wedding photo, it isn’t. It is my high school graduation. In an effort to keep me ‘boy-free,’ Guru had me attend Greenwich Academy, an all-girls school. What Guru didn’t care about was that Greenwich Academy was an elite, college-prep school for the debutante daughters of society. Needless to say, I found my experience at Greenwich Academy like entering another planet. This photo was of my graduation were white gowns, white gloves, and bouquets were a requirement. Every April and August, disciples from all over the world gathered in Queens to celebrate Guru. We created circuses, Olympics, and parades. This is a photo of me on one of the floats that traversed the streets of Queens spreading Guru’s message. When I left the confines of Sri Chinmoy’s group, I entered another subculture—the New York Gothic scene. I cloaked myself in black and mourned the world around me. It was a comforting place to wait, to have a community to belong to, and to try to discover who I was. On October 11, 2007, my daughter was born. About three hours earlier, Sri Chinmoy died. In a way, it felt as though everything had gone full circle. I now had my own family, my own purpose to life.