In India’s teeming amphitheatre of spirituality, the matronly “Amma”, whose birthday celebrations this week have taken the proportions of a major festival, comes with her own healing touch — the bear hug.
New Delhi, Sep 24 (IANS) — At the very least, her hugs have a therapeutic effect. At best, they throw devotees into raptures, a drugged state of bliss.
It is no wonder then that India’s top leaders as well as many thousands of Indians and foreigners are converging this week in Kerala to celebrate the 50th birthday of Amritanandamayi, the “hugging saint” known as “Amma” to millions across the world.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, the list of illustrious devotees goes on.
“I do not believe that god is there above the sky,” Amma said in a recent interview. “I have a concept of god in terms of qualities. The attempt is to instil those qualities in people.”
Miracles? She is believed to have turned water into a sweet milk dessert.
Amma’s hugging spree can last for several hours at a stretch, and this time she is said to be preparing to hug some half a million followers when they come to touch her feet at Kochi over the four-day celebrations that began Wednesday.
“It is India’s biggest spiritual meet,” gushes one of Amma’s aides as huge banners with Amma’s smiling face, little buntings, and marquees come up on the roads leading to the celebration venue.
Bamboo poles support a huge makeshift kitchen where a feast for visitors will be prepared. The events include a meeting of top executives from around the world, which the president is to attend, an interfaith meeting and a women’s conclave.
The mass fervour bears a close look at the rise of this white clad, ever grinning, dark lady who loves to use the flowing river as a metaphor for her life.
Amritanandamayi was born Sudhamani in a poor fishing village in the coastal village of Parayakadavu in Kerala.
Her parents Sugunanandan and Damayanti, who now light a lamp before their daughter’s framed photograph, say she was always obsessed with helping the needy.
Never so much into studies, she spent more time praying to her favourite Hindu god Krishna and meditating at the seashore.
Young Sudhamani often behaved as if she was possessed, leading her parents to worry about her mental health.
But things changed when devotees gradually started coming from neighbouring areas to seek her blessings. Her disapproving family turned her out of the house.
Soon a small band of devotees clustered at an outdoor clearing where she was staying. They anointed her Mata Amritanandamayi, or the joy of the immortal nectar.
This was how the Amritanandamayi Mutt or sect came to be born in 1981, beginning with a few huts close to her family home and growing to embrace the world with branches in England, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Holland among others.
In 1993, she represented Hinduism at the World Religion meet in Chicago.
Her Vallikkavu ashram is now a sprawling charity conglomerate that funds the setting up of houses in villages, hospitals and institutions the world over.
What is the story behind that trademark hug?
Explains the godwoman: “It is like asking a river why it flows. That is my character. It became so. I do not see if it is a man or a woman. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients… My karma is to console those who are sad.”
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.