ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 40

With a hug and a smile, Amma transforms lives

By Esther Williams

“This world is like a flower. Each nation a petal. If one petal is infested, does it not affect all the other petals” Amma who is known for her extraordinary acts of love and self-sacrifice asks, pointing out that it is the duty of each one of us to preserve the beauty and fragrance of this world.

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, better known as Amma was in Sri Lanka recently to hand over keys of the houses constructed by her mission for people affected by the Tsunami in the districts of Kalutara and Ampara.

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi flashes a radiant smile

Although the spiritual lady from the Indian state of Kerala was not able to have a public meeting, she was present at the Tourist Board auditorium on February 22 where a large congregation gathered to receive her blessings. The moment she walked in, people were struck by her radiant smile.

Speaking in Malayalam, she related how saddened she was about the conflict in the country, assuring people of her prayer for peace and harmony. She went on to say that while safety precautions can keep terrorists away, the truly destructive emotion - hatred cannot be detected so easily.

Using illustrations, she highlighted the need to speak kind words, show acts of love and help those in need. “Intelligence is like a pair of scissors and the heart is like the needle that sews things together,” she said adding that we need both for permanent solutions to problems in life.

Interestingly, she embraced all the beneficiaries of the housing project and all those who sought her blessings. This trademark warm hug has endeared her to millions of people around the world. Apparently in many of the places she visits, people queue up, sometimes overnight to receive her embrace. This way she shares her boundless love with all, regardless of their beliefs, who they are or why they have come to her. In this simple, yet powerful way, Amma is transforming the lives of countless people, it is said. In the past 36 years, Amma has physically hugged more than 26 million people from all parts of the world.

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi a loving kiss for a devotee. Pix by Berty Mendis

Born in a remote coastal village in Kerala, Amma expressed love and compassion to everyone, even as a child. She constantly wondered why people had to suffer, be poor or starve – a common occurrence in the fishing community she grew up in, especially when they had no catch. Taking to meditation at an early age despite increasing criticism from her parents, she inquired into the source of sorrow. ”If it is people’s karma (fate) to suffer, isn’t it your darma (duty) to help them?” was the message she received, adopting the philosophy as her purpose in life.

In India she has to her credit numerous institutions – schools, hospitals, housing schemes, self employment schemes, care for elderly, orphanages, etc. where service is provided free of charge. Aside from the tsunami and the Gujarat quake, her mission has provided relief to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the US (2005), to victims of the Kashmir-Pakistan earthquake (2005), to flood victims in Mumbai (2005) and in Surat (2006).Her visit to the island included visits to many tsunami affected areas in the Ampara and Hambantota districts to console affected people and distribute clothing and medicines to them. A total of 96 houses with an area of 600 square feet have been built here.

In Kerala, her ashram is home to 3000 people, 1000 of whom are foreigners, while many more travel to see her from all over India and the world, all inspired by her example – dedicating themselves to serving the world. Through her vast network of charitable projects, they build homes for the homeless, provide pensions to the destitute and organise medical care for the sick. For as Amma says: “Love is the only medicine that can heal the wounds of the world.”

An Italian national, Devanandan (meaning bliss of God), so named by Amma has been her devotee for over 12 years. He comes periodically and stays at the ashram for a period of six months each time. “The energy in Amma’s ashram is spiritually strong. It is changing me,” he explains when asked what he gets from it.

About the routine for residents, it appears that devotees begin chanting the 1000 names of the Divine Mother at 5.00 a.m. until 6.30 a.m., followed by an hour’s meditation. After breakfast at nine, each of them has duties to perform. When Devanandan is there, he is in charge of cleaning the stage either at the little temple or the big temple, before and after Amma’s visit. Thereafter he monitors stage activities and controls crowds during the four days of the week that she gives darshan – blessings that involve a hug and a consoling whisper in the ear.

Two days a week, the spiritual lady conducts meditation and a question answer session. The devotees say they benefit immensely from them. “There was a lot of anger and bitterness in me. I was upset with life before I came here,” Devanandan says. Now he wants to be near her more often as he feels that Amma gives him energy.

“She is the embodiment of love and compassion which are qualities of God. In that sense, she is God,” Devanandan explains. Moreover, Amma according to him has dedicated all her life to serve others, never expecting anything in return. “She practises what she teaches. I want to stay near God and she makes this possible.”

Everywhere she travels, Amma claims that her religion is love, her unique, extraordinary expression of universal love revealing this more powerfully that words.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.