AYUDH's 2023 Winter Retreat

AYUDH Winter retreatants holding up blankets for the needy behind blue AYUDH letters

AYUDH Chicago hosted its first-ever AYUDH Winter Retreat January 13 - 15. The retreat was open to all ages and included people from all over the U.S. The organizers chose C20 as the retreat's primary theme because the government of India appointed Amma as chair of the country’s Civil 20 (C20), an official engagement group of the Group of 20 (G20). G20 is the leading forum for international economic cooperation and plays an important role in helping shape policy for major international economic issues. India holds the presidency of the G20 from December 2022 through November 2023. C20 provides a platform for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) around the world to voice the needs and aspirations of everyday people to the world leaders in G20. It gives CSOs a voice to promote social and economic development with the vision of leaving no one behind.

Amma has said that science and a multi-disciplinary approach are needed to combat environmental destruction, hunger, and rural poverty. The C20 tagline #YouAreTheLight is a call to every member of civil society to come together, make their own path, find solutions, and resolve issues through collective effort. Accordingly, AYUDH Chicago is making this year's C20 goals the focus of its 2023 activities, and the AYUDH Winter Retreat was the perfect kickoff event to launch those efforts. 

Swami Shantamritananda Puri and AYUDH Chicago team members opened the AYUDH Winter Retreat with an inspiring overview of the C20 theme and initiatives, upcoming AYUDH projects. Additionally, because the retreat coincided with the Pongal, retreatants learned about the significance of this South Indian harvest festival. Participants were also treated to a surprise visit from Br. Ramanandamrita Chaitanya from Florida.

The retreat included multiple workshops, including a Letters of Love workshop in which participants created cards and bracelets for children and seniors. Studies have shown that receiving a handwritten note or card has a positive emotional impact for its recipient. The workshop's finished bracelets and letters were sent to two organizations focused on reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness in hospitalized children and senior citizens in the U.S.

A sip and paint workshop gave everyone an opportunity to participate in a Rangoli competition. Participants were able to sit back, relax, drink chai, and connect with fellow retreatants while painting.

The bhajans workshop was a fun way for the retreat participant to immerse themselves in devotional singing. Participants in this workshop played bhajan-themed games based on word association and finishing a line within the song. Retreatants also participated in a dance workshop during which they learned simple steps to the upbeat bhajan Pongal Vaithu, perfect for the Pongal festival. Groups got a chance to display their own choreography skills during the session too. 

Retreat participants also enjoyed a special screening of the documentary, Amma's Way: A Journey to Embrace the World Again. The 90-minute film portrays Amma and her humanitarian, societal, spiritual, and educational work through the inspiring words of her disciples and devotees. 

The rest of the retreat was filled with many fun events, including team-bonding activities, Pongal celebrations, an AYUDH-led bhajan set, a special satsang and a Q&A session with Swami Shantamritananda Puri, selfless service opportunities, and a cultural program. The cultural program included a group choir, a dance performance, a tabla set, a saxophone solo, and more. The grand finale featured a high-energy instrumental medley derived from popular Devi Bhava bhajans, Pongal folk songs, and songs dedicated to Lord Ayyappa.

The final day of the retreat included a special livestream with Amma during which Amma started singing the bhajan Pongal Vaithu - the same bhajan from the dance workshop earlier in the retreat. What a surprise! Amma's Amritapuri AV team then livestreamed the AYUDH Winter Retreat participants displaying their new dancing skills so everyone could see them dancing to Pongal Vaithu while Amma beamed with joy. 


The retreat ended with a lively Jeopardy-style game, during which players gained a lot of knowledge about nature, bhajans, composting, history, and Amma. The organizers plan to offer this retreat annually and hope to welcome even more participants in 2024. Learn more about how you can get involved with AYUDH Chicago here