for Life Positive
In this age
of cynicism and fragmentation, one woman, born in an obscure
south Indian village to poor fisher folk, has mesmerized the
world with her potent message of active loving and giving.
Amma, as she is affectionately called,
hugs the world and the world hugs her back in tearful joy
of people from all over the world and all walks of life flock to
meet Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, affectionately known as 'Amma'
or 'Ammachi', meaning Mother. What is the secret of her magnetic
attraction and power?
According to Amma, it is "pure selfless love".
Swamini Krishnamrita Prana, Amma's disciple, agrees. An
Australian, she first heard about Amma while staying at an
ashram near Mumbai, India. She was in for a great surprise when
she met Ammachi. She had seen only gurus who sat on pedestals at
a safe distance from devotees who had to be content with
touching the guru's sandals. But here was a guru who hugged her
with unconditional love and warmth at first sight.
Krishnamrita describes how Amma once healed a leper by sucking
the pus and blood from his sores. Such is her infinite
compassion. In the words of Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri,
Amma's first sanyasi(monk) disciple: "Here is a mystic
accessible to anyone and everyone with whom you can converse and
in whose presence you can feel God."
Amma has been known to spend as many as 20 to 30 hours at a
stretch, hugging devotees and visitors at her congregations.
Clad in a snow-white sari, the beaming Amma literally holds
thousands to her bosom, whispering in their ears, "my child,"
"darling son" or "darling daughter", listening to their troubles
and their deepest spiritual longings, without pause for food or
even a sip of water.
treats everyone alike, from the billionaire to the beggar, from
the newborn to the elderly, from the antagonist to the ardent
admirer. According to Swamini Atma Prana: "Each person who goes
to see Amma, even if he or she be the seven-thousandth person in
the darshan (divine glimpse) queue, will receive the same
attention from her." This familiar closeness is so moving that
many burst out in tears.
whether she felt tired after giving darshan for so many
hours on end to thousands of people, Amma replied: "Where there
is love, there is no effort." She adds: "When you give more,
your coffers are always full. You acquire the double of what you
Intrigued by this unusual guru, The Los Angeles Times asked Amma:
"Why do you hug people?" She replied: "This question is like
asking the river, 'why are you flowing?' Does anyone ask his or
her mother, 'why do you hug me?'" she replied. During a
memorable discussion, the BBC had a doubt: "You hug millions of
people all over the world, who hugs you?" The answer was: "The
entire creation hugs me."
'hugging saint' has an explanation for her own famous hug: "From
the outside it looks like an ordinary hug. But when Amma hugs
people, she is transmitting a bit of her spiritual energy into
them, which will help them feel Divine Love and open up more."
Bill Schekner of the CBS also wrote that Amma's hug is an
expression of the need to embrace the world and flood it with
never forgets to emphasize the need for love. In a live
interview aired on July 10, 2001, the NBC Today show host Ann
Curry asked Amma about her impression of present-day USA and its
need for the kind of compassion Amma teaches. Amma answered:
"Whether in America or in any other part of the world,
motherhood is not a quality that women alone should have. Men
should also awaken to their innate feminine qualities, which is
the need of the age. All over the world, people have an intense
longing to experience pure love. They are in search of that
love, but are not finding it. Rather, each person is becoming an
object in the other person's hand."
Apart from her famous accessibility, what adds to Amma's
infinite appeal to all kinds of people is her multidimensional
nature. Different people experience Amma according to their own
evolution. For some she is the fountain of ultimate
spiritual knowledge. For many she is the loving mother whom you
can turn to in moments of crisis and to resolve everyday
problems. For others she is a miraculous healer of illnesses.
For a person who follows the path of devotion (bhakti
yoga), Amma is a true devotee par excellence. One who
pursues the path of knowledge (jnana
yoga) perceives a perfect Knower of the Self in her. And
for the one who follows the path of action (karma
yoga), Amma is the ultimate karmayogi. But a
person with a clear comprehension can see that Amma is a
multidimensional integration of all these aspects. To her
devotees, she is a Divine incarnation of the Mother Goddess.
countless stories of wonderful
transformations that happen in the lives of those who meet
The story of Amma's senior disciple Swami Amritatmananda Puri is
an excellent example. He was born in a wealthy family of Kerala,
India and grew up as a modern youth indulging in worldly
pleasures. He remembers: "I had problems with my business. I
came, not seeing Amma as a spiritual master, but to know my
future. After darshan, all of a sudden, a great
transformation occurred in my life. It was as if I woke up from
a dream forgetting everything about my family, home and worldly
life. Then onwards, I surrendered my life to Amma."
and Rishikesh in India, as a wandering monk, he experienced
miraculous visitations from Amma. It was not a mere feeling of
her presence. "She actually came to me several times. Amma
showed me how a master protects a disciple. It is a miracle for
ordinary human beings like us," he says.
In the souvenir published to mark the inauguration of the Amrita
Institute of Medical Sciences,
in 1998, T.N. Seshan, former Chief Election Commissioner of
India, revealed that Amma was his constant inspiration during
his crusade to clean the stables of Indian politics. He wrote:
"Battling political parties when everybody doubted that anyone
could hold our political parties at bay, I was able to do it
with Amma's grace… By the virtue of the love I received from the
Mother of Amritapuri, I found the strength to declare falsehood
as falsehood, and truth as truth."
message on Amma's birthday last month, former Indian CBI
director D.R. Kaarthikeyan wrote: ''When I asked many foreigners
why they follow Amma wherever she goes when they cannot even
fluently communicate with her, their reply was: 'We need not
converse with her. It is enough to be in her divine presence and
just keep looking at her eyes always full of grace, compassion
Nair, director of Modi Alkalies and Chemicals, India, who is
also the secretary of Amma's Math (abbey) in Delhi,
India: "Amma communicates with everyone through the language of
the heart. I have seen her talking with the same concern and
involvement when discussing issues of national importance as she
does when listening to an old woman from a village whose cow has
stopped yielding milk."
the atman (soul) in everyone.
any other organization, there is a hierarchy in the ashram.
However, there is no sense of superiority or inferiority
associated with the different levels of the hierarchy. The
overwhelming feeling is that everyone is part of one big family
of the Divine Mother. Everyone has a special bond with Mother,
and each is focused on enjoying every moment that he/she spends
with Mother,'' explains Brahmachari Shubamrita Chaitanya,
honorary editor of the ashram's monthly magazine, Matruvani.
Brahmachari Dhyanamrita Chaitanya, one of Amma's disciples, Amma,
who is grounded in immortal bliss, knows everyone's innermost
thoughts. Once, during darshan, when thousands of devotees were
present, he tried to test Amma. He prayed in his mind: "Mother,
please look at me." He switched his position several times. But
to his astonishment, every time, Amma looked at him and smiled.
She later revealed things about him that nobody could have
known. His doubts ended and he became her devotee.
Satsang(religious congregation) with Amma is an intense
affair. Amma and the brahmacharis and brahmacharinis (
celibates) lead devotional bhajans (Indian devotional
music)and the devotees are guided to
meditate. Amma discusses complex spiritual truths in the
simplest language. Her discourses are often laced with witty
remarks and anecdotes that drive home complex ideas with force.
This was evident in her address at the Millennium World Peace
Summit of Religious and Spiritual leaders in the UN General
Assembly during the session on 'The Role of Religion in Conflict
Transformation' on August 29, 2000. Her reference to weapons
received special applause. She said: "Simply transferring the
world's nuclear weapons to a museum will not in itself bring
about world peace. The nuclear weapons of the mind must first be
received a standing ovation when she related a story of three
spiritual leaders. This story is a parody of contemporary
efforts towards peace. "The leaders of three religions—A, B and
C—once decided to convene a meeting for peace. God was so
pleased with their efforts that He sent an angel to them during
the meeting. The angel asked the leaders what they wished. The
leader of religion A said: 'Religion B is responsible for all
the problems. So please wipe them off the face of earth!' The
leader of religion B said: 'Religion A is the cause of all our
troubles. You have to reduce them to ashes!' By now the angel
was disappointed. The angel turned expectantly to the leader of
religion C. With an expression of grave humility, C's leader
said: 'I wish nothing for myself. It will be enough if you
merely grant the prayers of my two colleagues.'"
Amma's rise from a misunderstood and abused, God-intoxicated
village girl to a guru who offers solace to millions, is the
stuff legends are made of. She is said to have been born with
Supreme Consciousness and never sought guidance from any guru.
district in Kerala, India, there is a sleepy village,
Parayakadavu, that nestles between the Arabian Sea and the
backwaters. Amma was born there in 1953, the fourth child of
Sugunananadan and Damayanti, poor fisher folk. The baby, named
Sudhamani, is said to have had a dark blue complexion. By the
age of five, she had started singing devotional songs in praise
of Lord Krishna.
Sudhamani, life was stormy. Her devotional moods, singing,
dancing and ecstatic trances were incomprehensible to both her
own family and the local people. Most people thought the child
was the servant of her family. Her day began at three in the
morning and an endless stream of household chores like cooking,
washing clothes, milking the cow, fetching water and cleaning
continued till midnight. Her mother was always ill. Despite
being an exceptional student, she was forced to quit school by
the age of nine.
of her backbreaking schedule, Sudhamani found time to help
others. She would give food and clothes away and take money from
her father's wallet to serve the needy because of which, she was
Sudhamani's devotional moods continued to deepen and she began
seeing the divine everywhere. Her family often locked her out of
the house without food. She slept outdoors and meditated on the
seashore. The sand was her bed, the stars her blanket and the
moon her only light.
connection, it is worth noting that the sadhana
(devotion) that mahatmas perform is called sadhana leela.
They do not need to undergo any spiritual discipline, But to set
an example to the world, they undergo austerities. Amma gives
the example of an instructor at a school for the speech- and
hearing-impaired who communicates with the students through sign
language. Not that he cannot communicate otherwise, but to
communicate with the students, he has to use a mode of
communication that is meaningful to them.
having undergone or displayed (we know not which) rigorous
sadhana, Amma then manifested her oneness with the divine
from September 1975 onwards through the Krishna and Devi
Bhavas. As Amma says: "All the deities of the Hindu
pantheon, who represent the infinite aspects of the One Supreme
Being, exist within us as well. A divine incarnation can
manifest any one of them for the good of the world by mere
braved untold suffering and obstacles in implementing her
mission on earth. Skeptics organized a committee to stop 'blind
beliefs' and fought her vehemently. Earlier, some of her
antagonists used to stone her and there were even attempts to
kill her by stabbing and poisoning. Her own brother was her
greatest enemy. The committee's activities led to court cases
and several investigations. She was accused of lunacy and
cheating people in the name of devotion. But all these attempts
to silence her eventually failed and the opposition gradually
May 6, 1981,
the Mata Amritanandamayi Math and Mission Trust was founded in
the house where Amma was born. From then onwards, Amma adopted
the name 'Mata Amritanandamayi' (Mother of Immortal Bliss) given
to her by a brahmachari (celibate initiate) disciple who
later blossomed into a poet with the Mother's grace and came to
be known as Swami Turiyamritananda Puri. By 1985, there were
nearly 20 branch ashrams in
at age 33, responding to the request of devotees from the USA
and Europe, Amma made her first world tour. In 1989, the
Amritananadamayi Center, a residential ashram and retreat
canter, was established just outside San Francisco. Since then,
similar centers have sprung up in Canada, England, France,
Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Finland,
Argentina, Brazil, Mauritius, Reunion Island, Japan and
been visiting her devotees throughout the world ever since. In
1993, she was elected as a member of the Parliament of World
Religions in Chicago. In the same year, Hinduism Today, an
international journal on Indian culture, conferred the 'Hindu
Renaissance' award on Amma. In 1995, she was invited to speak at
the interfaith celebration in New York to commemorate the 50th
anniversary of the United Nations.