Indian Guru Embraces Life
Salon pays a call on the 'hugging saint' and meditates on the Amma empire
By Heather McPherson,  Newser User
Posted Jul 19, 2007 12:02 PM CDT
Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as "Amma" bestows one of her famous, blessed bear-hugs.   (Chronicle/Michael Maloney)
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(Newser) – A 53-year-old fisherman's daughter from Kerala, India, stands at the center of an empire of idol worship and charitable works—stands there and hugs her disciples. Amma, a mother figure revered by many as a goddess, commands a kingdom of philanthropy, volunteerism, and merchandising, Salon reports. The reporter even jumps the line and gets a hug.

The enterprise has detractors, but millions of dollars in foreign contributions each year fund one of India's largest humanitarian and relief organizations. Says one disciple: "She's taking money from crazy housewives and giving it to widows and disaster victims in India." An equally important number is 26 million: Amma has issued at least that many hugs.