Meet Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī, better know as ‘Amma‘, or ‘the hugging saint’.
This woman has reportedly hugged a phenomenal 31 million people! Her powers of envelopment are so famed that her followers queue for hours just to enjoy a few seconds nestled within the folds of her indefatigable arms.
Born into a family of fishermen in Kerala in 1953, from an early age Amma used her powers of embrace to comfort those in need. Within her community it was not deemed suitable for a young teenage girl to have such close contact with strangers yet the hugging continued. Decades later and Amma is annually touring the world offering her open arms to anyone who wants them. And they flock in their thousands. At a rate of 3-hugs-a-minute, do the maths and a 20 hour queue is often the hefty price paid for a mere 20 second hug.
You may find yourself asking what all the fuss is about. Well, that question can be fielded to her millions of devotees. Dante Sawyer first met Amma in 1998 and has since dedicated his life to her work. He recalls, “You really experience a love that’s given completely, selflessly – it’s just like sunlight pouring out; it’s a love that doesn’t have demands of you.” American Stephen Parr simply adds, “once she hugs, you know.”
Cryptic? Yes. But maybe to locate the source of Amma’s popularity one need look no further than the action itself. A hug: “to clasp tightly in the arms, especially with affection”, “to cherish”, “to embrace”. The act of hugging is a universal source of comfort and Amma represents the pinacle of its abilities. The millions who journey across the world for a few moments in her presence seek the Usain Bolt of the hugging world. Amma’s embraces may have broken records of their own but strip back the slick website, the logo, and the army of followers and it boils down to where it all started: a hug. It really is that simple…