Amma Wants to Hug You

ByABC News

N E W  Y O R K, July 11, 2001 -- Hundreds of people lined up at a collegeAuditorium Tuesday to get a hug from an Indian spiritual leader whosefollowers say they feel uplifted when they embrace her.

Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as "Amma," or mother, hasbeen known to spend as many as 20 hours hugging attendees at herservices.

She is appearing through Wednesday at Columbia University inupper Manhattan as part of a 10-week U.S. tour. The audience Monday night at Columbia included a broad mix:college students, young couples with small children in tow, and asmattering of older followers. "I can't explain whether it's her individual energy or anenergy within the group," said Zack Kurland, 28, of New York."It's an uplifting feeling."

Social, Spiritual Leader in India

Amritanandamayi was born in the Kerala state of India in 1953.She was removed from school at a young age to look after her familyand soon began watching over others in her village. She began her spiritual endeavors as a young woman, encouragingothers to social service and to express love for others. Later shestarted a program in which people could go to her and receive herblessing — a hug, or darshan. After two and a half hours of songs, chants and meditations onMonday, Amritanandamayi, seated in the center of a large stage,received her devotees. As they approached, the followers fell totheir knees and patiently waited their turn. She greeted each with a warm smile and outstretched arms. Eachdarshan resembled an embrace between two old friends who hadn'tseen each other in years. Most hugs included a kiss on the cheek,an encouraging whisper in the ear, and loving caresses on the backand arms.

750 Hugs on Tuesday

Devotees followed an honor system under which those who hadnever participated in a darshan were allowed to move to the frontof the line. Organizers said more than 750 people received tokensthat allowed them to climb on stage and receive a hug. In 1993, Amritanandamayi served as president of the CentenaryParliament of World Religions in Chicago. In 1995, she was aspeaker at the United Nations' 50th anniversary commemoration. Caroline Finnegan, 24, a New Yorker at her first Amritanandamayiservice, said she was looking forward to what she had heard was a"powerful and loving experience." "We don't really have too many of those in Manhattan,"Finnegan said.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events