India’s “hugging saint,” who has hugged more than 32 million people around the world, celebrated her 60th birthday on Friday in the company of disciples from around the globe.
The celebrations for the charismatic spiritual leader, known as Amma or “mother” to her millions of devotees, have stretched over three days at her complex in Amritapuri, on the coast of southern India’s Kerala state.
Mata Amritanandamayi, the guru’s full name, hugs people in her globe-trotting crusade to spread “selfless love and compassion,” according to her Web site.
As part of the birthday celebrations, she dispensed her trademark hugs and announced a series of charitable initiatives.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised Amma in a message saying that “her life is dedicated to society.”
“Coming here and seeing all of the people makes me realize how many people need Amma. She is not just hugging people, she is changing lives,” tweeted Eliza Shackelford, an American who was at the celebrations.
Ten years ago, on her 50th birthday, Amma hugged thousands of people non-stop over 24 hours, according to media reports.
Disciples at the complex on Friday washed Amma’s feet in a sign of love and devotion. The ceremonies also included a marathon prayer for world peace.
Amma regularly travels to the US, the UK and other destinations to hug people. The plump, smiling guru says she is connected to an “eternal energy source,” which means she is never tired.
She grew up in a Kerala fishing town, the eldest daughter of a low-caste family. According to her official biography, she started hugging people as a child “to comfort them in their sorrow.”
She embraces all faiths and calls herself a “servant of god.”
She launched her ashram several decades ago and it receives millions of dollars a year in donations. She operates a large charitable organization which provides health care, education and disaster relief.