(Digital art Courtesy: Hiral Varun)
Who is Amma?
Amma (meaning, mother) is Mata Amritanandamayi, a lady Hindu Saint, a God-realized (or self-realized) sage, a true knower of Universal Self (Brahma Gnyani) , who is considered an Avatar (God descended to earth in Human form, according to Hindu beliefs) and a Satguru (a spiritual teacher of the highest order) whose expression of divinity is through her unsurpassed expression of love towards all beings.
How old is Amma? What was her original name? Where was she born? Who are her parents? Where is her place?
Amma is now 64 years old . Her original name was Sudhamani. She was born on 27/09/1953 in a fishermen community, at a remote village (Parayakadavu/ Vallikkavu) near the Arabian sea about 20 km away from Kayamkulam town in Kerala State, in South India.
Her father’s name is Sugunananthan and her mother’s name is Dhamayanti. Sudhamani was their third child. Sudhamani had 4 brothers (one elder and the rest younger) and 3 sisters (one elder and the rest, younger).
It is in this small village is her Ashram Mata Amritanandamayi Math is situated. This place is now called Amtitapuri. In the limited strip of land between the Arabian sea and back waters, the Ashram’s sprawling complex comprising of a temple, a large Darshan Hall and a few multi-storeyed residential apartments for all her disciples and devotees is situated.
Why is she called Amma?
The word Amma in Tamil and Malayalam means mother. She is considered the avatar of the Universal Divine Mother (varyingly called Parasakthi, Jagat Janani, Jagadamba, Rajarajeshwari, Parvati, Vaishnavi, Maha Maya, Kali and so on, who, according to holy mythology, is the divine consort of Lord Shiva). For Amma, every one in this world, irrespective of whether he/she is younger or older than her, is her child and all her children call her Amma. Amma’s love to her children is unconditional and she has no barriers of caste, color, creed, religion or anything else to express her motherly love to one and all. The young Sudhamani, who was later christened Mata Amritanandamayi by her devotees, thus became the mother of one and all and a “hugging saint” right from her 22nd age.
Why is Amma called the “Hugging Saint”?
In Hinduism, going and seeing a God in a temple or seeing a Saint is referred to as having a “darshsan”. Darshan means seeing. In India, it’s the practice that great Saints stand or sit at a distance and his devotees will go and prostrate before him/ her to express their reverence. Some Saints will permit touching of their feet by close disciples. In Hinduism it is the practice to touch the feet of holy and elderly people as a mark of reverence and this touching of the feet of a divinely person is believed to bestow us good spiritual fortune.
It is also believed that any bodily touch of the saint will transfer one’s sins to the saints and this way one gets purified, but the saint who has accepted the sins will have to go through the physical suffering for having accepted the sins of others. So, except on very special occasions or considerations, all and sundry will not be encouraged touch the saints.
That’s totally absent in Amma’s case. Amma, out of her unbridled love on all her children, gives “dashan” to every individual by embracing him/ her physically. Whether one is healthy, clean or unclean – as unclean as a leper whose skin oozes with pus, Amma embraces one and all.
Perhaps the term “hugging saint” was coined by western media when Amma visited USA first in the year 1987.
In Hinduism, isn’t it said that a Guru is needed for one to attain self-realization? If so, who is Amma’s guru?
Amma is a divine incarnation. She is a swayambu (self manifested); she is not of the normal class of spiritual aspirants who can seek the ultimate truth only through the guidance of a Guru.
But, Amma was soaked in the deepest divine bhakthi (love of God) right from her childhood. Her yearning to have a vision of her beloved God, Krishna was consuming her like a flame; she cried unceasingly for uniting with her beloved lord; her whole of waking consciousness was enveloped in that single thought. Songs praising her lord and begging for his darshan poured out from her lips involuntarily.
With all this at one side, she had abundant energy to do physical domestic work, which she did tirelessly for her family; her parents understood nothing of her divinity; they thought she was mentally insane. Her very dark complexion was a subject of distaste for them. They showed no interest to educate her formally. Apart from a little of primary education that enabled Amma to read and write in Malayalam (her mother tongue), Amma had no worthy “worldly” education to speak of.
This sort of unceasing and all consuming love of God, is called Parabhakthi in Hinduism. It is also known as Prema Bhakthi. Chaitanya Deva (a saint of Eastern India) had such a divine love for Krishna in the past. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, another saint of the past from Bengal had this divine love on his beloved Holy Mother Kali.
Through this power of Prema Bhakthi, saints realize God. That’s how Amma realized Lord Krishna; Lord Krishna merged into her and became one with her. At her 20th age, Amma became a realized soul.
Then why is it said Amma is a divine incarnation of Universal Mother?
Amma, after realizing God in the form of Krishna (Purusha, the male principle) was then caught in a tempest of love on the Universal Mother (Prakriti, the female principle). It was her second phase of prema bhakti on God, now directed at the female principle. After going through a maddeningly intense “tapas” (severe spiritual austerities) to have the vision of her “true mother”, without virtually missing even a second to keep calling her “Amma”, amma realized her goal; she ultimately found Divine mother revealing her glorious form and eventually merging in her. It happened at her age of about 22.
Wait. You say, Lord Krishna merged in Amma. Then you say, Universal Mother merged in Amma. But you said earlier that Amma is a divine incarnation of the Universal Mother. Isn’t all confusing?
One requires a deeper understanding of Hinduism to grasp all these. In Hinduism, there is only one God, known as Brahman (also called Paramatman, the supreme Atman), who is all pervading, is without beginning or end, and is beyond name and form. But the same Universal being, when related to the physical realm of the world and the cosmos with names and forms, becomes the creater, sustainer and the destroyer. He, in this role, is attributed with names and forms and is amenable for worshiping as Ishwara (God). Hindus have the freedom to worship Ishwara in any form very dear to their heart.
A Hindu can worship God as Vishnu ( the protector), Shiva (the destroyer), the Shakti (the Universal Mother), or in any forms of divine incarnations like Rama, Krishna and so on. Ignoring names and forms, it is the same God who is the in-dweller in all beings as Atman, because the God and his creation are not two entities.
Depending on the extent of one’s self awareness, one perceives God as a separate entity as Ishwara (the Dwaita – duality concept) , or as Paramatman — the soul of the individual soul (Vishitadwaita – the qualified non-duality concept) and as Atman (one’s own Self, being the Absolute reality, with nothing second existing — the Advaita, non-duality principle).
All these 3 states are true in some way or other, depending on the extent of one’s realization of the ultimate truth. While Advaita, the non-dualistic state is the ultimate truth which is realized by a qualified seeker at an exalted state where the “I” consciousness becomes totally absent, the other states also become relative truths as one descends back to worldly consciousness — when “I” and “you” are perceived.
For a person of Amma’s level of attainment, Advaita is the state of attainment and state of being. But, purely out of compassion to serve the society and guide all earnest seekers to realize the ultimate truth, Amma descends to the mundane level and plays her divine act with all of us, like a person acting in a drama with different masks and makeup.
Amma, though, in her true state remains as Atman, with nothing secondary to it, she, at the relative level, sports a “bhava”, a divine mood. When, as a seeker, she loved the lord (Ishwara) in the form of Krishna (who is nothing but the all pervading Atman, but now worshiped with name and form), she realized her own Atman and it was experienced as if the Lord Krishna merged in her. The same explanation holds good for divine experience and mood –“bhava” as a divine mother.
Amma, though originally expressed her divine bhava as Krishna, she, later opted to express her bhava as Divine mother too. Still later, she opted to express only the divine mood as Universal mother – Devi Bhava and discontinued her Krishna Bhava.
It’s Hindu’s belief that God descends to earth to uplift mankind and show ways to salvation from time to time, based on the specific needs of the time. As Amma displays her divine bhava more as a mother, her devotees hail her as an Avatar of Universal mother.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa says “Avatar is only for the sake of Bhaktas (lovers of God). Gnyanis (seekers of True Knowledge without sentimental emotion to forms of God) have no significance to the idea of Avatar”.
Thus from a bhakta’s viewpoint, Amma is an Avatar — the Avatar of the Universal Divine Mother. From the intellectual seekers’ view point, Amma is a Gnyani — Knower of Atman, a self-realized soul, a jivan mukta (one who has attained deathless state while being alive), or one who has attained, from a Buddhist viewpoint, Nirvana. For an earnest spiritual seeker looking for spiritual guidance, Amma is a Satguru.
8. Let her be God, Avatar or whatever. What is that she has done for the world? In what way has she contributed for the welfare of the mankind? People say she is now heading a multi-million dollar empire?
Amma’s every breath is for the welfare of the mankind. She sets examples; she inspires countless people to serve the world. Thousands of devotees from all walks of life come to her and join her with their money and resources to serve the world in so many ways. That’s how so many of her institutions have sprung up.
She has inspired thousands of young men and women to renounce worldly life and lead a life of brahmacharya, do spiritual practices and seva; countless householders have left behind their comforts of life to settle in the ashram and do service as well as sadhana.
Embracing the World is a global network of regional humanitarian organizations inspired by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math. Embracing the World exists to help alleviate the burden of the world’s poor through helping to meet each of their five basic needs — food, shelter, healthcare, education, and livelihood — wherever and whenever possible.
If you want to know what she has done to the world, here is a brief list:
- 2001 Gujarat Earthquake – Construction of 1200 earth quake resistant homes for the affected people.
- 2004 Tsunami in India and Sri Lanka – built 6200 Tsunami-resistant houses, supplied 700 new fishing boats, constructed an evacuation bridge (in case of similar future calamities) , providing vocational training to 2500 victims and so on.
- 2005 Hurricane Katrina relief in USA – donating $1 million to Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund
- 2005 Earthquake in Kashmir – Free food and medical supplies
- 2005 Mumbai floods, 2006 Gujarat floods, 2008 Bihar floods — Over $1.5 million spent in medical aid, food supplies and shelter.
- 2009 Cyclone Aila, West Bengal — medical care and food supplies
- 2009 Floods in Karnataka and Andhra –$10.7 million relief package including medical care, food, supplies and building of 1000 homes for displaced refugees.
- 2010 Haiti Earth quake — Mediacl supplies, blankets, providing scholarship to students
- 2011 Japan earth quake & tsunami — $ 1 million relief focusing on children orphaned in the disaster.
- 2012 LPG Tanker & Fireworks disasters in south India — Aid to families of dead and injured.
- 2013 Uttarakhand floods — Rs 50 Cr0re relief package to construct 500 houses destroyed in the Uttarakhand in 42 selected villages in the districts of Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi. Also cover educational scholarships, pension to widows and women empowerment activities.
- 2013 Typhoon Haiyan relief at Philippines — Mata Amritanandamayi Center, USA donates 1 million dollar aid for people affected.
- 2015 Chennai Floods — Supply of food and medicines, Rs 5 Crore donation to Chief Minister’s relief fund.
- Completion of 45,000 homes for the poor throughout India
Other Aid Projects
- Providing 41,000 scholarships to children of impoverished farmers, with a goal to reach 1,00,000 students.
- Empowering 1,00,00 women by providing startup capital, vocational education and access to micro credit loan
- Organic farming initiative to support 10,000 poor people to grow organic vegitables in their own land.
- Orphanages for 500 children in Parippally, Kerala and 50 children in Nairobi.
- Yearly feeding of over 10 million poor people inside India, 1,00,000 people outside India including 75,000 in USA via Soup kitchens
- Pensions for 59,000 destitute women and the physically and mentally challenged, with a goal to reach 1.00,000 such people.
- Running 4 care homes for the elderly in India
- Prisoner-welfare project in USA provides solace for prison inmates
- 2015 — Rs.100 Crores donated for constructing toilets in the poorest villages surrounding the Ganges River as part of Swachh Bharat and Namami Gange project.
- 2015 — Another 100 Crore project for constructing toilets in the houses of the poor in Kerala.
- 2017 — Rs.200 Crore project of providing filtered and clean drinking water to 5000 villages in India, to benefit 10 million people in rural areas.
AMRITA INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL SCIENCES (AIMS) (Ernakulam)
- Not-for-profit 1,300 bed hospital (210 bed ICU) providing advanced health care to patients including free medical care for the poor.
- serving more than 10 lakh outpatients and more than 70,000 inpatients annually. The massive healthcare infrastructure with over 3.33 million sq.ft. of built-up area, spread over 125 acres of land, supports a daily patient volume of approximately 3500 outpatients with 95 percent inpatient occupancy. There are 12 superspeciality departments, 45 other departments.
- More than 2.6 million people have have received complete free treatment since 1998.
- Telemedicine support for hospitals and more than 40 remote centres across India and parts of Africa.
- Free health check up in remote areas providing preventive health care.
- Five branch hospitals providing free care to the poor
- AIDS care home at Trivandrum and Cancer Hospice at Mumbai
- Free palliative in-home care for the terminally ill
- Conducting more than 100 free medical camps annually throughout India
- Providing 1,00,000 women with training to become in-home nurses in more than 6000 self-help groups
- AYURVEDIC MEDICARE through Amrita School of Ayurveda (Amritapuri) with 160 bed hospital
- Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Amrita University) having 5 campuses with Schools of Engineering, Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Arts and sciences, Biotechnology, Business, Journalism, Ayurveda and Education. More than 20,000 students and 1,500 faculty members. (NAAC A grade University).
- Amrita Research Labs and other research departments are continuously involved in developing innovations in communication, e-learning, computer sciences and Biotechnology.
- 30 leading Universities worldwide including Stanford, MIT, NYU, EPFL in Switzerland, VU in Amsterdam, TU Munich, Roma Tre, ETH Zurich and the University of Tokyo cooperate with Amrita University to enhance higher education and research in India.
- Institute of People’s Education provides job training and community development.
- United Nations commended literacy-training program for the tribal populations
Elementary and Secondary Education
- 47 Amrita Vidyalayam schools throughout India, providing value-based holistic approach to learning
- A school for hearing-impaired children in Kerala
- Mata Amritanandamayi Math – Amritapuri Ashram (Kerala India) is the international headquarters for Amma’s service work, which is carried out through hundreds of branch centers and service groups world-wide.
- The Ashram houses several hundreds of Brahmacharis, Brahmacharinis, Householder devotees, monks, hostel students, westerners and so on.
- IAM (Integrated Amrita Meditation) Technique and Amrita Yoga are taught free throughout the world.
- Spiritual books and magazines (‘Matruvani’) printed at the ashram in multiple languages are distributed to devotees across the country and world.
- Regular shastra (scriptural teaching) classes are conducted in the Ashram.
- AYUDH is the youth wing of Amma’s devotees and followers inspiring youngsters in leading a balanced life including spirituality and seva as part of worldly life.
- GreenFriends initiative cutivates reference for Nature and has arranged and inspired planting more than 1 million trees since 2001.
TO KNOW MORE ABOUT AMMA AND HER DETAILED LIFE TIMELINE, CLICK <HERE>
To watch Video on Amma’s global activities: