For some, she is a mystical saint. For many others, she is the embodiment of love and compassion. For skeptics, she is an ordinary woman with an extraordinary knack for playing with people’s spiritual sentiments and insecurities. So, who is the real Mata Amritanadamayi?
India may have more than its fair share of godmen and women, but Mata Amritanadamayi remains an enigma even today. Born Sudhamani to a fishing family in a small village of Kerala, she now heads a Mission which is the second largest recipient of foreign funds in India. Amma, as she is fondly known, literally has the nation at her feet. Among her millions of devotees are former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, former Home Minister L.K. Advani, and the Defense Minister A.K. Anthony. Through her Trust, she owns a popular TV channel and controls a network of educational institutions and state-of-the-art hospitals. Parayakadavu, her birthplace, has morphed into Amritapuri – a bustling township with a bank, post-office, schools, colleges, and a sprawling Ashram complex.
What is behind this sudden rise of a poor, uneducated woman to divinity? Is it the power of unconditional love? The Hugging Saint has touched (pun unintended) the lives of more than 30 million people with her trademark embrace. Unlike some other godmen, Amritanandamayi does not restrict her darshans and often grants 2,000 hugs in an hour. Is her popularity fanned by the miracles attributed to her? The faithful claim that Amma can kiss away wounds, annul curses, and fulfill prayers for anything from a better catch of fish to children for childless couples. What even the strongest critics cannot ignore is the extent of her reach.
She has won the Gandhi-King Award for non-violence, addressed the UN General Assembly, and spoken at the Parliament of World Religions. “Darshan - The Embrace”, a film based on her life, was showcased at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. Rationalist associations continue their relentless fight to dispel notions of the Mother’s miracle powers. However, when it comes to money power and media power, Amritanadamayi remains second to none.
Do you believe that ‘living saints’ can contribute to world peace and non-violence? Are their charitable activities only a mask for raking in tax-free money? What makes them so powerful? Is it blind faith or mass hysteria?