Who is Amma, the Hugging Saint?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Mata Amritanadamayi, known as Amma the Hugging Saint, is a woman of Indian birth who has amassed a huge worldwide spiritual following. Though her practice and religion is Hindu, she is a strong advocate for peace between religions, and her principal means of communicating this is through hugging people who visit her, which she feels expresses a divine motherly connection between herself and others. Her ministry, begun in 1981, emphasizes charity to the poor and ill, addressing disease, and promoting an end to suffering through the mother’s love of a hug. It is her hope that her hugs, sometimes as many as 20,000 a day without break, give to people a sense of the divine nature in their hearts.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Amma is not only known to people of India, but is known by much of the world. She’s embarked on several foreign hugging tours, and has been instrumental in raising money to assist victims of disasters like Hurricane Katrina, for which she donated over a million US dollars (USD). She’s addressed the United Nations, given speeches at UN Peace Summits, represented her Hindu religion in interfaith conferences, and received the Gandhi-King Award for Nonviolence in 2002. Despite her emphasis on assisting the poor, her actions did come under fire in the US in 2007, when she chose to stay at a Los Angeles hotel that was in the midst of a labor dispute with its workers.

It is unclear whether Amma clearly understood the implications of her actions, but given the criticism of this decision, Amma’s star shines a little less brightly in media treatment. Still, to many Amma is considered a saint, on par with Mother Theresa, in her goal to attain universal motherhood through the simple act of compassionate touch. It is certainly not the case that Amma can be accused of using donations to her charitable organizations in an abusive manner. Her work “hugging” is usually carried on for sometimes 16 hour stretches without breaks for food or even water.

To some ardent followers, Amma is truly a saint, and they ascribe to her the ability to produce miracles and heal people. These claims have not been widely substantiated. What can be verified is that Amma the hugging saint early in life knew that she must devote her life to the disenfranchised. As a child she gave any possessions she had away, and instead of marrying, chose to follow a path of attaining universal motherhood. She has certainly succeeded in some respects with millions of devotees in India, and many followers throughout the world, not all of them of her faith. In fact, up until the 2007 hotel controversy, she had been widely accepted as a holy woman, if not a saint, by people of many faiths, including some religions diametrically opposed to Hinduism.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Thank you David Amsden for this revealing article. In the West, Amma has worked hard to fool everyone into the ridiculous idea that she is a saint. In India she is seen as a mafia boss. You mentioned Gail Tredwell's book "“Holy Hell, A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness”. It is dynamite, which is why Amma is trying to tear her down.

Gail has suffered not only the violence from Amma, but also, Amma's lover Big Swami Balu frequently raped her. The ashram residents were expected to accept such brutality. This is the true face of Amma.


To be accurate, you need to read the statements by Ex-Amma YahooGroup members and Gail Tredwell, who was Amma's personal assistant for 20 years.

There are sufficient eyewitness accounts of Amma's violence, sexual misconduct and fraud. Amma's lover is head of the organization and has been accused of rape. Murders and suicides are common at Amma's Amritapuri ashram. Amma is linked to five murders in a book by policeman Sreeni Pattathanam.

A good place to start research is "Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness". Amma's followers, like Elizabeth Sidon, have been caught pretending to be neutral parties when they tried to smear Gail Tredwell.


Note the statement: "Amma's star shines a little less brightly in media treatment." That is not a statement criticizing Amma. It is a statement about how some media treated her after the incident. It is not an accusation nor is it an opinion on the worthiness of Amma.

Every person of worth gets a little tarnished by life and decisions they make. Her actions to stay in a hotel during a labor dispute are presented with both sides.

I like this article and I don't think it hurts this remarkable person.


Whoever who wrote the above article on Amma clearly lacks the understanding of investigative journalism. To assert that Amma's star is less bright on account of her stay at LA is most ill founded and reflects substandard journalism. Ideally, one should pursue the subject of controversy and seek clarifications instead of jumping onto the bandwagon of accusers.

It is easy to accuse but very difficult to retract -- so do your due diligence before publishing highly contentious material on a person whose only crime has been to extend her unconditional love to millions of human beings.

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