Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, known as Ammachi or Mother (or the Hugging Saint in the world’s media) was born 27 September in a small fishing village in Kerala, South India. Named Sudhamani, she was the third child in family of 8 children. Her early life was punctuated with intense devotion to Lord Krishna, right from very young age.
Ammachi – The Hugging Saint
As a young girl in a village in Southern India, Sudhamani’s life centered around care of her siblings, the family home, chores, and care for her mother, who suffered persistent rheumatiod arthritis. Her schooling was interrupted to take up home duties, and she also served as a servant-girl for some time in families of relatives.
Right from young age, Sudhamani was devoted to Lord Krishna and took every opportunity to express devotion to her beloved Lord. She would often be found, household task forgotten, in intense devotion to Sri Krishna.
O Essence of Mercy, O compassionate One
O Krishna, give me refuge!
O Krishna, is the story of these burning
Tears that flow out unknown to Thee?
Offering flowers at Thy Feet that have
Crushed the serpent Kaliya I will worship
Thee, O Krishna…
Thou came as the charioteer of Arjuna
At Kurukshetra and protected
Truth and Righteousness…
O Lord Who preserved Dharma
Show a bit of compassion to us!
O Lord of the Gita, Lover of Divine Music
Give the capacity to sing Thy song…
O Lover of devotional singing,
Do You not hear Thy sacred Names
Uttered from the innermost heart?
At age 19, upon hearing a recitation of the Srimad Bhagavathum, a sacred Indian text, Sudhamani was overtaken by divine vibrations and manifested the form of Lord Krishna. This was witnessed by many villagers. Inhabitants came from surrounding villagers and expressed doubt. To satisfy the gathering of doubting sceptics, Sudhamani agreed to perform one physical miracle, where a pot of water was changed to milk, and then to pudding. The pudding was distributed to all present, numbering over a thousand people.
Realising her oneness with Sri Krishna, Sudhamani called one of the Doubting Thomases to bring a pitcher of water. As before, she sprinkled this on the devotees present as sacred water. Then Sudhamani asked the same man to dip his fingers in the remaining water. To everyone’s amazement, the water had become pure milk. This was then distributed among the crowd as a holy offering from God. Then Sudhamani called another sceptic and asked him to dip his fingers in the pitcher of water. The milk in the pot had turned into a sweet and fragrant pudding, “pancharamritham”.
Such temporary manifestation was immediately accepted as true, a form of temporary posession, known as Avesa Avatara, where the Lord takes temporary form in his devotee and performs sacred actions. Seeing the Lord in this form is known as Bhava Darshan, and villagers would attend Sudhamani’s village when these darshans were announced, in order to take the vision of the Lord.
Thereafter a profound change came upon Sudhamani and she began giving sacred teachings on the purpose of life. She gave visions of the divine on her person (called darshan) three times per week. Darshan was granted in a portion of a cowshed adjacent to the family home, which had been turned into a temple. The darshans granted were that of Lord Krishna.
Soon after, Sudhamani received a vision of the Divine Mother, and yearned to have that vision and presence above all else. One day Sudhamani heard a voice inside her say, “My Child, I dwell in the heart of all beings, and have no fixed abode. Your birth is not for merely enjoying the analloyed bliss of the Self, but for comforting suffering humanity. Henceforth, worship me in the heart of all beings and relieve them of the sufferings of worldly existence…. ”
It was after this divine call that Sudhamani began manifesting Devi Bhava, , the mood of the Divine Mother, in additon to the Krishna Bhava. After a time, Sudhamani resolved to give only the vision or darshan of the Divine Mother, in accord with her divine calling.
Sudhamani was deeply moved by the people she met who were sad and suffering, and would spontaneously give them a hug. When others saw this, they also wanted to be comforted in this way. So this became the maternal and natural way that Sudhamani granting the darshan of the Divine Mother, blessed everyone regardless of their age, caste, sex or religion.
Disciples, devoted to the Divine Mother, came to stay with Ammachi. These began to trickle in, from approximately 1976, and soon a small band of 4 devotees were staying in a small thatched hut given by Ammachi’s father, Suganandan. In 1981, a modest ashram was founded in the Idamannel compound, next to her family home. The small band of devotees followed a strict spiritual discipline.
In 1987, Ammachi took her first world tour to meet with devotees in the US and in Reunion Island, where there was an ashram devoted to Amritanandamayi Devi. Other tours followed in 1988, 1989. There have been many other tours world-wide.
Ammachi, the Divine Mother addresses all her devotees as Children, and had engaged in many service projects to relieve the suffering of humanity. Ammachi and her devotees have engaged in many projects of selfless service to the poor and needy. There are orphanages, housing for the poor, homes for the aged, earthquake relief, primary and secondary schools, and education for the deaf. In 1998, the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) charitable hospital opened in Kochin, Kerala, South India.
Children, we should visit homes of the poor, orphanages, and hospitals from time to time. We should take our family members along and offer assistance and look after the welfare of inmates. A word spoken with love and concern will give them more comfort than any amount of money. That will lead to expansion of our hearts as well.
Ammachi’s teachings revolve around the oneness of all persons as children of the Divine Mother and their duty to be mindful of the Divine Mother or their personal form of God in all times and all places. Ammachi gives teachings on spirituality for the householders, meditation, selfless service, satsang, the company of those on the spiritual path, and family life. Ammachi’s teachings particulary emphasise family spirituality and prayer together with parents and children. More about Ammachi’s teachings may be found on Ammachi’s website.
Home and Family
At sunset, a lamp filled with clarified butter or any vegetable oil should be lit and everyone in the household should gather near it to sing hymns and do a little meditation. There is no need to compel anyone to participate in worship. DO not be troubled if someone is not joining. Saying prayers at sunset was common practice in the households in olden days, in India. Today it is going out of fashion and we are suffering the consequences of this neglect. At dusk, the juncture of day and night, the atmosphere is impure. Through meditation and singing devotional songs, we gain one pointedness of mind which will purify our minds and the atmosphere. Instead, if we engage in loose talk or fun, worldly vibrations will pollute our minds further.
In 1993, Amma attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago as one of the leaders of the Hindu faith and in 1995, she was invited to speak at the Interfaith Conference in New York on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. Amma was also one of 30 speakers invited to address The Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations August 2000.
In 2002, at the invitation of the Secretary General of United Nations, Koti Annan, Ammachi gave a speech to the United Nations on the occasion of the Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders. You may read that speech here