In Kollam district in Kerala, India, there is a sleepy village, Parayakadavu, that nestles between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. Amma or Amritanandamayi (today, hugging saint to millions) was born there in 1953, the fourth child of Sugunananadan and Damayanti, poor fisher folk. The baby, named Sudhamani, is said to have had a dark blue complexion. By the age of five, she had started singing devotional songs in praise of Lord Krishna.
For little Sudhamani, life was stormy. Her devotional moods, singing, dancing and ecstatic trances were incomprehensible to both her own family and the local people. Most people thought the child was eccentric.
Sudhamani was the servant of her family. Her day began at three in the morning and an endless stream of household chores like cooking, washing clothes, milking the cow, fetching water and cleaning continued till midnight. Her mother was always ill. Despite being an exceptional student, she was forced to quit school by the age of nine.
In spite of her backbreaking schedule, Sudhamani found time to help others. She would give food and clothes away and take money from her father's wallet to serve the needy because of which, she was severely beaten.
In 1975, during a religious reading in the neighborhood, Sudhamani had a vision and showed her 'Krishna Bhava'. From then onwards she completely devoted herself to serving humanity. Slowly people began to flock to the village and seek her blessings. But there was opposition from her family and outside. So she started a small seaside hamlet where some of her disciples left their families and came to live with her. The Vallikkavu ashram, now called Amritandanmayi Math started off in 1981 as a soul-soothing spiritual tourism spot. Amma would console her visitors by cradling them in her arms, listening to their problems, gently stroking their backs, and often whispering soothing words in their ears. The math is now the self contained headquarters of an international charity organization with towering quarters for devotees. It has branches in many Indian cities and has centers in several Asian countries, the US, Europe, Mauritius and Reunion Island.
Today her efforts has broadened worldwide with Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust being the headquarters to the various charitable projects such as Amrita Niketan (orphanage), Amrita Balamandiram (hostel for scheduled caste students), Amrita Bhavanam (hostel for tribal children), Amrita Kripa Sagar (hospice for the terminally ill cancer patients), Amrita Medical Centre and Amrita Medical Mission of Ayurveda etc. being some of them. The trust has built 25,000 houses for the poor in 12 Indian States. In 1993, Amma was one of the three people who represented Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago. In 2002, she won the Gandhi- King Award for Non-violence.
Mata Amritanandamayi mutt has donated $1 million in aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina that battered the US in August and Rs 2 billion in tsunami relief aid. She proclaims that "her only wealth is the happiness and well-being of her children."
SPIRITUALITY THAT WORKS
To Mata Amritanandamayi, spirituality is not an excuse to escape from the material world. She is not an ivory tower guru. She teaches that compassion is a prerequisite for realizing the Self. Selfless service leads ultimately to liberation.
In her address to the Parliament of World Religions, Chicago, on September 3, 1993, Amma said: "Our spiritual quest should begin with selfless service to the world. People will be disappointed if they sit in meditation, expecting a third eye to open after closing the other two. This is not going to happen. We cannot close our eyes to the world in the name of spirituality and expect to evolve. To behold unity while viewing the world through open eyes is spiritual realization."
According to Swami Amritatmananda Puri an ammas disciple, Amma's message is 'Universal love, fraternity and service.' "When you have a guru like Amma, through her grace you are automatically inspired to serve the world. Amma always says you have to look at the sad, poor people and their sorrows," he adds.
Swamini Krishnamrita Prana points out that in Amma's teaching, there is no difference between spirituality and the world. "You have to live in the world so that every action of yours will be with a good attitude and intention to help someone," she says.
Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri also stresses that Amma's philosophy is not otherworldly. "There is no difference between spirituality and life or love and life. Love and life are one."
Often referring to herself in the third person, Amma describes her mission: "The purpose of this body and of Mother's whole life is to serve her children." Amma practices what she teaches. She is the hardest worker at her ashram. She can be seen carrying bricks to building sites, cooking for her disciples and feeding them with her own hand and tending cows or cleaning toilets apart from overseeing ashram affairs and maintaining a world travel and teaching schedule.
The loving Amma is also a strict disciplinarian to her disciples. Amma's ordained students observe strict celibacy and the residents of her ashram meditate eight hours a day in addition to doing service. Amma has said that her strict standards for her disciples are aimed at keeping their ego in check and inculcating an aptitude for selfless service. It is not in conflict with her love. Amma breaks the ego to bring out the real essence.
Amma with her special aura of sanctity travels around the country and abroad, giving 'darshan', bringing solace and peace to an increasing number of devotees from every corner of earth with her divine hug.
Mata Amritanandamayi Math
Amritapuri Post, Kollam, Kerala.
India - 690 525.
Tel : 91-476-2896179, 91-476-2896278.
Tel : 91-476-2896399, 91-476-2897578.
Fax : 91-476-2897678.
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