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About Mahant Swami Maharaj (born Vinu Patel, 13 September 1933; ordained Sadhu Keshavjivandas) is the present guru and president of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, an…
Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī (born Sudhamani Idamannel; 27 September 1953), better known simply as Amma (“Mother”), is a Hindu spiritual leader and guru who is revered as a saint by her followers.
Mātā Amṛtānandamayī is an Indian guru from Parayakadavu (now partially known as Amritapuri), Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, in the state of Kerala. Born to a family of fishermen in 1953, she was the third child of Sugunanandan and Damayanti. She has six siblings.
As part of her chores, Amṛtānandamayī gathered food scraps from neighbours for her family’s cows and goats, through which 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. Amṛtānandamayī also began to spontaneously embrace people to comfort them in their sorrow. Despite the reaction of her parents, Amṛtānandamayī continued. Regarding her desire to embrace others, Amṛtānandamayī commented, “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.”
Amṛtānandamayī rejected numerous attempts by her parents to arrange for her marriage. Her life took a different path instead. In 1981, after spiritual seekers had begun residing at her parents’ property in Parayakadavu in the hopes of becoming Amṛtānandamayī’s disciples, the Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Math (MAM), a worldwide foundation, was founded. Amṛtānandamayī continues to serve 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, Amṛtānandamayī began to conduct programs in countries throughout the world. She has done so annually ever since.
In 2014, for the first time in history, major Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian leaders, as well as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders (including Amṛtānandamayī), met to sign a shared commitment against modern-day slavery organized by the Global Freedom Network; the declaration they signed calls for the elimination of slavery and human trafficking by the year 2020.
In July 2015, Amritanandamayi delivered the keynote address at a United Nations Academic Impact conference on technology and sustainable development, co-hosted by Amrita University. The event was attended by delegates from 93 international universities. In Amritanandamayi’s address, she requested the scientific community to infuse its research with awareness and compassion, stressing the importance of keeping the aim of uplifting the poor and suffering in mind when undertaking technological research.
Amṛtānandamayī’s form of giving darshana is hugging people. As to how this began, Amṛtānandamayī said, “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. Amṛtānandamayī has embraced more than 33 million people throughout the world for over 30 years.
When asked, in 2002, to what extent she thought her embraces helped the ills of the world, Amṛtānandamayī 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.”
Amṛtānandamayī’s darshana has been the centerpiece of her life, as she has received people nearly every day since the late 1970s. Given the size of the crowds coming to seek Amṛtānandamayī’s blessings, there have been times when she has given darshana for more than 20 continuous hours.
In the book The Timeless Path, Swami Ramakrishnananda Puri, one of Amṛtānandamayī’s senior disciples, wrote: “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.” Amṛtānandamayī herself says, “karma [action], jñana [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 different methods toward the same 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 as compassion, patience, forgiveness, self-control, etc. Amṛtānandamayī has said that these practices refine the mind, preparing it to assimilate the ultimate truth: that one is not the physical body and mind, but the eternal, blissful consciousness that serves as the non-dual substratum of the universe. This understanding itself Amṛtānandamayī referred to as jivanmukti [liberation while alive]. Amṛtānandamayī said, “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.”
Amṛtānandamayī has recorded more than 1,000 bhajans, or devotional songs, in 35 languages. She has also composed dozens of bhajans and set them to traditional ragas. Regarding devotional singing as a spiritual practice, Amṛtānandamayī 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.” Amṛtānandamayī has said that in today’s world, it is often difficult for people to attain deeply focused concentration in meditation. A person can be aided in reaching this level of concentration with bhajans.
Embracing the World, Amma’s network of charity organizations, provides food, housing, education, and medical services for the poor. This global network exists in 40 countries around the world, and has built and/or supported schools, orphanages, housing, and hospitals throughout India. In the United States, the organization has provided soup kitchens and hot showers for the homeless, books and hospital visits for prison inmates, and support for victims of domestic violence. The organization also raised $1 million in aid for Hurricane Katrina victims. The hospital located on the territory of Amma’s ashram in Kerala offers medical care on a sliding scale, allowing people to pay what they can afford. This is often a minimal percent of the total medical cost.
Following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the organization provided food and shelter to thousands of people, especially in areas where Indian government aid was inadequate.
Amritanandamayi’s organization has been cleaning the Pampa River and Sabarimala Temple pilgrimage site annually since 2012.
On September 11, 2015, Amritanandamayi donated $15 million USD to the Government of India’s Namami Gange “Clean the Ganges” program for the specific purpose of constructing toilets for poor families living along the Ganges River.
On September 27, 2015, Amritanandamayi pledged that her NGO would dedicate the value of another $15 million USD to toilet construction and other sanitation efforts specifically in the Indian state of Kerala.
On December 9, 2015, Amritanandamayi donated 5 crores of rupees ($736,486) to the flood relief fund established by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Additionally, at Amritanandmayi’s direction, 500 volunteers from the Mata Amritanandamayi Math helped to rescue victims and distributed food, clothing, medicines, and other essentials.
Sreeni Pattathanam, the Kerala-based head of the Indian Rationalist Association, wrote Matha Amritanandamayi: Sacred Stories and Realities, a controversial critique first published in 1985. The author claimed that all the “miracles” of Amṛtānandamayī were falsified. It was further written that there had been many suspicious deaths in and around her ashram that required police investigation.
On 9 August 2002, Deshabhimani, a Malayalam daily newspaper owned by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), published a similar account, demanding investigation into the same deaths Pattathanam found suspicious. On 24 September 2002, Deshabhimani officially apologised for the report, publishing an article titled “Report that Suspicious Deaths at Amritanandamayi Math Are Growing Was Incorrect”. The article stated: “We now state with conviction that there was nothing suspicious about deaths that happened in the Math. Some of the deaths mentioned in the article did not even take place at the Math.” The article went on to explain that relatives of the deceased had personally contacted Deshabhimani in order to correct the misinformation conveyed in the original article. In several cases, the editors noted the relatives had contacted Deshabhimani to explain they were at the bedsides of elderly kin who had died of natural causes, with no suspicious aspects regarding the passings.
In 2004, the Kerala State Government sanctioned criminal prosecution of Patthathanam, the owner of the publishing company, and the printer of the book on grounds that religious sentiments had been offended and for the libelous statements in the book. The order followed directions from the Kerala High Court to the Home Department for considering an application by T.K. Ajan, a resident of the Mata Amṛtānandamayī Math. CPI leader Thengamam Balakrishnan protested the move against Pattathanam.
On 1 August 2012, a 25-year-old law student from Bihar, Satnam Singh Mann, attempted to barge onto the podium of Amṛtānandamayī at her ashram in Kollam. According to police, he was screaming and reciting words in Arabic. He attacked security guards and then was overpowered by devotees, who handed him over to the police.
1993, ‘President of the Hindu Faith’ (Parliament of the World’s Religions)
1993, Hindu Renaissance Award as “Hindu of the Year” (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 25 May 2010 at its Buffalo campus.
2012, Amma featured in the Watkins’ list of the top 100 most spiritually influential living people in the world.
2013, Awarded first Vishwaretna Purskar (Gem of the Word Award) by Hindu Parliament on 23 April 2013 at Thiruvananthapuram (India)
2013, Awarded proclamation on behalf of the State of Michigan to Amma commemorating Amma’s 60th birthday, the official proclamation describes Amma as a true citizen of the world and recognizes Amma’s charitable works worldwide.
2014, Chosen as one among the 50 most powerful women religious leaders by The Huffington Post.
Founder & Chairperson, Mata Amṛtānandamayī 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
President Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary celebration committee, India
Member, Elijah Interfaith Institute Board of World Religious Leaders
Amṛtānandamayī’s disciples have transcribed her conversations with devotees and spiritual seekers to create approximately a dozen books of her teachings known as “Awaken Children”. The addresses she has delivered at various international forums have also been published in book form. Beginning in April 2011, a bi-weekly message from Amṛtānandamayī has appeared in the Lifestyle section of the Express Buzz Sunday supplement of the New Indian Express newspaper. She also writes a regular blog in the spiritual publication Speaking Tree.
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 Gédéon Naudet
2016 “Science of Compassion – a Documentary on Amma, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi” — directed by Shekhar Kapur.