Mata Amritanandamayi Devi
Sudhamani Idamannel, also known as Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (born September 27, 1953) and Amma ["Mother"], is a Hindu spiritual leader and teacher, who is revered as a saint by her followers. She is sometimes referred to as “The Hugging Saint.”
Mata Amritanandamayi Devi was born Sudhamani Idamannel in the small village of Parayakadavu (now partially known as Amritapuri), Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala in 1953. Her schooling ended when she was nine, and she began to take care of her younger siblings and the family domestic work full-time. As part of her chores, Sudhamani gathered food scraps from neighbors for her family’s cows and goats. Amritanandamayi says at these times she was confronted with the intense poverty and suffering of others. She would bring these people food and clothing from her own home. Her family, which was not wealthy, scolded and punished her.
Amritanandamayi also began to spontaneously embrace people to comfort them in their sorrow. It was not permissible for a 14-year-old girl to even touch others, especially men. But despite adverse reactions by her parents, Amritanandamayi continued. Regarding her embracing of others, Amritanandamayi has said, “I don’t see if it is a man or a woman. I don’t see anyone different from my own self. A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering.”
Despite numerous attempts by her parents to arrange marriage for her, Amritanandamayi rejected all suitors. In 1981, after various seekers had begun residing at her parents’ property in Parayakadavu for the sake of being Amritanandamayi’s disciples, a worldwide organization, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, was founded. Amritanandamayi serves as chairperson of the Math. Today the Mata Amritanandmayi Math is engaged in many spiritual and charitable activities.
In 1987, at the request of devotees, Amritanandamayi began to conduct programs in countries throughout the world. She has done so annually ever since. Countries Amritanandamayi has held programs in include Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dubai, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritius, Reunion, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America. She also makes annual tours of India.
Darshan means “to see” in Sanskrit. In the Hindu ritual tradition, it refers to seeing the sacred. This typically corresponds to seeing the sacred in the image of a deity while at temple. In beholding the image of a deity, onlookers absorb through their eyes the powers of that deity. Darshan hence has the capacity to bring good fortune, well-being, and grace to those who participate in the act. Members of Amritanandamayi’s following use the term specifically in reference to receiving a hug from Amritanandamayi.
Amritanandamayi has been giving darshan in this manner since her late teenage years. As to how this began, Amritanandamayi says, “People used to come and tell [me] their troubles. They would cry and I would wipe their tears. When they fell weeping into my lap, I used to hug them. Then the next person too wanted it… And so the habit picked up.” Amritanandamayi’s organization, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, claims Amritanandamayi has embraced more than 31 million people throughout the world.
When asked, in 2002, to what extent does she think her embraces help the ills of the world? Amritanandamayi replied, “I don’t say I can do it 100 percent. Attempting to change the world [completely] is like trying to straighten the curly tail of a dog. But society takes birth from people. So by affecting individuals, you can make changes in the society and, through it, in the world. You cannot change it, but you can make changes. The fight in individual minds is responsible for the wars. So if you can touch people, you can touch the world.”
Amritanandamayi’s darshan is the centerpiece of her life, as she has received people nearly every day since the late 1970s. With the size of the crowds coming to seek Amritanandamayi’s blessings increasing, there are times when she gives darshan continuously for more than 20 hours. In a conversation recorded in the 2004 book From Amma’s Heart, Amritanandamayi says: “As long as these hands can move a little bit and reach out to those who come to her, and as long as there is a little strength and energy to place her hands on a crying person’s shoulder and caress and wipe their tears, Amma will continue giving darshan. To lovingly caress people, console and wipe their tears, until the end of this mortal frame is Amma’s wish.”
In the book The Timeless Path, Swami Ramakrishnananda Puri, one of Amritanandamayi’s senior disciples, writes: “The [spiritual] path inculcated by Amma is the same as the one presented in the Vedas and recapitulated in subsequent traditional scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita.” Amritanandamayi herself says, “Karma [action], jnana [knowledge] and bhakti [devotion] are all essential. If the two wings of a bird are devotion and action, knowledge is its tail. Only with the help of all three can the bird soar into the heights.” She accepts the various spiritual practices and prayers of all religions as but various systems for the single goal of purifying the mind.
Along these lines, she stresses the importance of meditation, performing actions as karma yoga, selfless service, and cultivating divine qualities such compassion, patience, forgiveness, self-control, etc. Amritanandamayi says that these practices refine the mind, making it fit for assimilating the ultimate truth: that one is not the limited body and mind but the eternal blissful consciousness that serves as the non-dual substratum of the universe. This understanding itself Amritanandamayi refers to as jivanmukti [liberation while alive]. Amritanandamayi says, “Jivanmukti is not something to be attained after death, nor is it to be experienced or bestowed upon you in another world. It is a state of perfect awareness and equanimity, which can be experienced here and now in this world, while living in the body. Having come to experience the highest truth of oneness with the Self, such blessed souls do not have to be born again. They merge with the infinite consciousness.”
Amritanandamayi’s world-wide charitable mission comprises a program to build 100,000 homes for the homeless, orphanages, relief-and-rehabilitation in the face of disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, free medical care, pensions for widows and disabled people, environmental-protection groups, slum renovation, care homes for the elderly, and free food and clothing for the poor, amongst others. These projects are managed and run by various organizations, including the Mata Amritanandamayi Math (India), the Mata Amritanandamayi Center (USA), Amritanandamayi-Europe, Amritanandamayi-Japan, Amritanandamayi-Kenya, Amritanandamayi-Australia, etc. All the organizations collectively are known as Embracing the World.
When asked about how her charitable mission’s development in 2004, Amritanandamayi said, “As for the activities, there was no planning. Everything happened spontaneously. One thing led to another on seeing the plight of the poor and the distressed. As Amma meets each and every person, she sees their problems face to face and tries to do something to alleviate their suffering. Om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu is one of the important mantras of Sanatana Dharma, which means, ‘May all the beings in all the worlds be happy and peaceful.’ The spirit of this mantra was put into action.”
The majority of work is done by volunteers as a form of spiritual practice. “It is Amma’s wish that all of her children should dedicate their lives to spreading love and peace throughout the world. Real love and devotion for God is to have compassion for the poor and the suffering,” Amritanandamayi says. “My children, feed those who are hungry, help the poor, console the sorrowful, comfort the suffering, be charitable to all.”
Amritanandamayi is well known for her devotional singing. There are more than 100 recordings of her singing bhajans in more than 20 languages. She has also composed dozens of bhajans and set them to traditional ragas. Regarding devotional singing as a spiritual practice, Amritanandamayi says, “If the bhajan is sung with one-pointedness, it is beneficial for the singer, the listeners, and Nature as well. Later when the listeners reflect on the songs, they will try to live in accordance with the lessons enunciated therein.” Amritanandamayi says that in today’s world, it is often difficult for people to get one-pointed concentration in meditation, but through devotional singing such concentration can be attained much easier.
Books and publications
Amritanandamayi’s disciples have transcribed her conversations with devotees and spiritual seekers to create approximately a dozen books of her teachings. The addresses she has delivered at various international forums have also been published in book form. Senior disciples including Swami Ramakrishnananda Puri, Swami Turiyamritananda Puri, Swami Paramatmananda and Swamini Krishnamrita Prana have also written books about their experiences with Amritanandamayi and their understanding of Amritanandamayi’s teachings. Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, the Vice-Chairman of the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, has written a biography about Amritanandamayi. The Mata Amritanandamayi Math also publishes Matruvani, a monthly spiritual magazine, as well as Immortal Bliss, a quarterly.
Founder & Chairperson, Mata Amritanandamayi Math
Founder, Embracing the World
Chancellor, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University
Founder, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS Hospital)
Parliament of the World’s Religions, International Advisory Committee Member
Awards and honours
1993, ‘President of the Hindu Faith’ (Parliament of the World’s Religions)
1993, Hindu Renaissance Award (Hinduism Today)
1998, Care & Share International Humanitarian of the Year Award (Chicago)
2002, Karma Yogi of the Year (Yoga Journal)
2002, Gandhi-King Award for Non-Violence by The World Movement for Nonviolence (UN, Geneva)
2005, Mahavir Mahatma Award (London)
2005, Centenary Legendary Award of the International Rotarians (Cochin)
2006, James Parks Morton Interfaith Award (New York)
2006, The Philosopher Saint Sri Jnaneswara World Peace Prize (Pune)
2007, Le Prix Cinéma Vérité (Cinéma Vérité, Paris)
2010, The State University of New York awarded Amma an honorary doctorate in humane letters on May 25, 2010 at its Buffalo campus.
Addresses at international forums
1993, ‘May Your Hearts Blossom,’ the Parliament of the World’s Religions 100th Anniversary (Chicago)
1995, ‘Unity Is Peace,’ Interfaith Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations (New York)
2000, ‘Living in Harmony,’ Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious & Spiritual Leaders (UN, New York)
2002, ‘Awakening of Universal Motherhood,’ the Global Peace Initiative of Women, (UN, Geneva)
2004, ‘May Peace & Happiness Prevail,’ Parliament of World’s Religions (Barcelona)
2006, ‘Understanding & Collaboration Between Religions,’ James Parks Morton Interfaith Awards (New York)
2007, ‘Compassion: The Only Way to Peace’ (Cinéma Vérité Festival, Paris)
2008, ‘The Infinite Potential of Women,’ keynote address of the Global Peace Initiative of Women (Jaipur)
2009, ‘Cultivating Strength & Vitality,’ inauguration of Vivekananda International Foundation (New Delhi)
1999 River of Love: A Documentary Drama on the Life of Ammachi
2000 Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends – “Indian Gurus” (BBC-TV)
2005 Darshan: The Embrace – Directed by Jan Kounen
2007 In God’s Name – Directed by Jules Clément Naudet and Thomas Gedeon Naudet
2009 Embracing Kenya
Video from international conferences
2002 The Gandhi-King Award 2002 United Nations : “The future of this planet depends on the women”
2004 Barcelona 2004 Parliament of World’s Religion “May peace and happiness prevail”
2006 James Parks Morton Interfaith 2006 “Understanding and Collaboration Between Religions”