Amma's popularity, while impressive, is not a new phenomenon. There have been a number of Indian spiritual leaders who have become popular in the West. The Maharishi were made popular by the Beatles in the 1960s, Sai Baba has more than 30 million followers worldwide and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was well-known for his popularity in the United States before his death.
For Amma, her life as a spiritual leader has also brought material benefits. Her headquarters in Kerala are indeed grand -- but according to her organization, the money comes from the sale of souvenirs, her personal effects and contributions.
While it is hard to know exactly how much money Amma has, she certainly spends a lot on her charities. She has been honored at the United Nations for her humanitarian service, and her charitable contributions have made international news. In February, she handed over the keys to 1,100 new homes in Nagapattanam for survivors of the 2005 tsunami.
Still her simple message is to love and serve one another, and most of her time is still spent hugging those in need.
"Love is not ordinary," Amma said. "Love is what sustains life. Whatever we do it is only to get love. There are two types of poverty in this world. The first one is, you know, financial. The second is poverty due to lack of love, the second one is more important. If we have compassion, we will automatically help."