Millions Flock From Around the World to India’s Hugging Guru



Millions Flock From Around the World to India’s Hugging Guru
Saturday, March 07, 2009

AMRITAPURI, India — The droves who come here leave with no souvenirs, no memories of posh hotels, nothing more than they brought.

All they came for was a hug.

The woman offering the soft embrace is considered a guru, and her tender approach and simple message have galvanized followers to amass in crowds thousands deep at stops around the globe. Part of the appeal of Mata Amritanandamayi, or Amma, as she is universally known, are teachings she says transcend any single faith, let alone simply her Hindu upbringing.

“My message is not unique,” she says through an interpreter. “There will ever only be one message capable of purifying man, nature, the atmosphere, the earth we live on and life itself. That message is: Act with compassion and love for all our fellow beings.”

The masses aren’t coming for Amma’s eloquence, though. Far more than any oratory, any dogma, any writings, people are drawn here by her touch, and so they line up and wait in marathon hugging sessions that can stretch 20 hours and more. The guru’s aides say she sleeps little, sometimes just an hour a night, but is as eager to hug her first visitor as her last.

Here, on these lush banks of the Arabian Sea near India’s southern tip, along backwaters dotted with coconut and cashew trees, Amma has built the capital of hugs. Her ashram, or spiritual center, is a maze of buildings reached by boat or a footbridge over a river.

Eventually, visitors find a large open-air auditorium with a group of men playing music and chanting, and lines of plastic chairs full of people awaiting their turn to walk up the ramp at stage right. When they finally make it, they enter a space so full of people it is hard to move.

Amma is finally in sight.

She is wrapped in a sheer white sari. Her dark hair is tinged with gray and pulled back, her face round, her features soft. Her ears and nose are pierced, and a red and gold dot is worn between her eyebrows. Her smile is beaming but imperfect. She looks older than her 55 years.

She offers hugs as aides come to her with varied questions about her multimillion-dollar charity network of hospitals and orphanages; she gesticulates frequently as she talks.

When the time comes, the visitor is nudged to sink to his knees before Amma’s makeshift throne covered in gold fabric. And, in an instant, it happens.

She holds the visitor’s head tightly between her shoulder and face, uttering in Malayalam what is unintelligible to the non-speaker. Some, she simply holds, others she gently strokes or pats their backs. Some are brief encounters; others last several minutes.

Some sob. Others can’t help but to break into a gaping smile of their own. Some tremble, believing they have been given a divine touch. Nearly everyone seems moved.

When it is over, Amma offers her visitor a small gift — often a hard candy or piece of fruit — and the line moves on. All told, her aides claim she has done this more than 25 million times.

“Her hugs are really like a sermon,” said Vasudha Narayanan, the director of the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions at the University of Florida. “In her touch, in her hugs are the greatest teachings.”

The experience so moves some that they give up their lives to follow the guru. Dante Sawyer was editing a jazz magazine in New York when he first met Amma in 1998. He had never felt anything like it.

“You really experience a love that’s given completely, selflessly — it’s just like sunlight pouring out,” said 35-year-old Sawyer, who is known at the ashram simply as Sachin. “It’s a love that doesn’t have demands of you.”

Two years after first meeting Amma — a name that means mother in Malayalam — he moved here to dedicate his life to her work. Countless others have similar stories to tell.

Amma was named Sudhamani when born to a relatively poor family here and from childhood was said to have spent a great deal of time meditating, singing and chanting, fixing her eyes on a picture of Krishna.

As her followers tell it, she felt compassion for others from an early age, even to untouchables, and was driven to tears by others’ suffering. Her own family viewed her with disdain, even wondering if she was mentally ill, those who tell her story say, and she was beaten and treated as a servant. She even pondered suicide.

All sorts of lore surrounds her story, including miraculous claims of turning water to milk and allowing a poisonous cobra to flick its tongue against her own. However it happened, though, as a young woman she attracted a following. Some ridiculed her and deemed her a fraud, but the number of devotees grew, and people began to journey to her in the 1970s.

She became regarded as a guru, but unlike other Hindu spiritual masters, she allowed herself to be more than just seen, offering her touch to anyone who wanted it. Amma’s touch is seen as having the potential to ignite one’s spiritual power.

Critics remain, charging Amma’s movement amounts to a personality cult. They question the finances of her organization or even claim it is linked to radical groups. Amma and her followers reject such accusations.

Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, considered Amma’s most senior disciple, says the guru has attracted so many followers because she is accessible to anyone and allows people to feel the presence of God.

“She is humble but firm as the earth,” he writes. “She is simple yet beautiful like the full moon. She is love, she is truth, she is the embodiment of renunciation and self-sacrifice.”

Today, her spiritual star power drives not only her popularity, but the success of international humanitarian efforts fueled by millions in donations. A visitor to her ashram is not asked to give anything, but many around the world do, funding her many Indian charitable endeavors, as well as massive relief for those affected by events such as the Asian tsunami.

She has a sleek Web site. Her movements are tracked on Twitter. She even has a logo.

At the end of her exceptionally long days, Amma climbs the steps to a simple studio apartment in a small peach-colored walk-up at the ashram. She will go to bed alone, having refuted her parents’ numerous attempts to arrange a marriage.

Amma received no formal education beyond the age of 10, and on this day, like every other, she has steered away from scriptural specifics. But her message is clear.

It is about taking as little as possible and giving the maximum, about embracing the core of faith.

It is, in essence, about a hug.

Fox News Reference

Sathya Sai Baba Divine Discourse On Onam

Recent Photograph Of Sathya Sai Baba At 82 - September 2008 Onam

Sathya Sai Baba September 12th 2008 Onam

Sathya Sai Baba Divine Discourse On Onam
Develop Self-Confidence to Acheive God-Realisation

This land of Bharath gave birth to great people
who earned name and fame in different continents;
This land of Bharath is the battlefield from where
the foreign rulers were driven out and freedom won;
This land of Bharath had earned great reputation
for erudite scholarship;
This land of Bharath is a divine land, which produced
great intellectuals in the fields of art, music, literature, and sciences;
Having been born in such a great land, oh Boys and girls!
The responsibility to uphold the glory of this country is yours.
(Telugu Poem)
Continue reading

Onam In Prashanti Nilayam – Sathya Sai Baba Ashram

Happy Onam

Happy Onam


Onam is definitely the most joyous and precious occasion for the Keralites irrespective of caste, creed or religion. The festival marks the annual visit of Mahabali to his erstwhile kingdom, reminding the reign of equality and justice.

It is customary for all Keralites to be at their ancestral homes with their parents to celebrate the festivity. The devotees of Bhagawan Baba flock to Prashanthi Nilayam in thousands to celebrate Onam in the Divine Presence.

Onam celebrations this year began in the evening of 10th September as Bhagawan came to the Sai Kulwant Hall amidst Veda chanting. Sacred notes of the Mangalavadya Nadaswaram announced the commencement of the celebrations. There was a dance drama entitled “Dashavathar” by the Bal vikas children of Kozhikkode and Malappuram districts. The children enacted various episodes from the Dashavathar, particularly Narasimha, Vamana, Rama, Krishna and Buddha. The programme concluded with bhajans and Mangala Aarathi to Bhagawan.

The celebrations for the second day commenced in the evening of 11th September. Bhagawan was received to Sai Kulwant hall with Veda and Nadaswaram at 3:30 PM. As Bhagawan occupied the dais, He instructed the students to start the Veda class; they dealt with the second and third Anuvakams of the Namakam.

What followed was a drama by the students of Sri Sai Vidya Vihar, Alwaye and the Bal Vikas children of Eranakulam, entitled “Rama – the embodiment of Love”. It was a bouquet of various incidents from the life of the Avatar, taken from Bhagawan’s Discourses. The opening scene demonstrated the love between Rama and His brothers. It went on to depict the surrender of Sugreeva, Vibheeshana and Hanuman.

Bhagawan was pleased with the performance and blessed the participants with the most coveted group photo. Vastram was distributed to all.

Next offering was Sampradaya Bhajan by Sri Padmakumar. All devotees joined the fast tempo songs clapping their hands enthusiastically. The programme concluded with Mangala Aarathi.

Even as Aarathi was over, Bhagawan spent some time in the dais and interacted with the participants of the drama. He remarked that the children had put in their best effort; that was why they could bring about such a wonderful performance. He particularly congratulated children who enacted the roles of Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman. Bhagawan added that the dialogue, music and costumes were also excellent. He told the children that He would come to Kerala and their school, that too walking! Bhagawan said; He knew that children were very anxious as to how the drama would come out and they had been working tirelessly since morning. Now that everything turned out fine they could go back and take rest. Bhagawan blessed the chilren with Abhayahastha.

12th September was the Thiruvonam day. The Sai Kulwant hall was bedecked to the occasion with the festoons made of Kuruthola (Tender coconut leaves). The stage was aesthetically decorated with fresh flowers and ornamental umbrellas (Muthukkuda) adorned the periphery of the auditorium. A traditional Pookkalam (floral design) was arranged in front of the dais along with Nirapara, Nilavilakku (step lamp), Onathappan (onam deity) and other auspicious offerings like flowers and fruits. (Nirapara is a full measure of paddy heaped for ceremonial offerings; a traditional measuring container would be filled to the brim with paddy and decorated with ‘Thengin Pookula’ (tender coconut flowers).

Bhagawn made His grand entry at 9:35 a.m. and was traditionally received with Poornakumbham, accompanied by a colorful procession consisting of band, Veda group and thalapoli (Thalappoli, a ceremonial procession, is a significant item in most of the festivals in Kerala In this ritual, women or young girls carry thalam, which literally means plate, in their hands. Thalam is filled with rice, flowers and a lighted lamp. Thalappoli is considered a symbol of prosperity).

As Bhagawan made entry into the hall, auspicious notes of Nadaswaram and Panchavadyam filled the ambience. After granting darshan to one and all Bhagawan occupied the dais and inaugurated the function by lighting the sacred lamp. After a few moments Panchavadyam (orchestra of five instruments, is basically a temple art form has evolved in Kerala) and Nadaswaram (one of the most popular classical instruments of South India) gave way to Thayambaka by students (Thayambaka is a type of solo chenda performance that developed in the South Indian state of Kerala, in which the main player at the centre improvises rhythmically on the beats of half-a-dozen or a few more chenda and Ilathaalam players around) – initially in a low tempo progressively increasing to a thunderous climax!

As Veda chanting continued, Bhagawan permitted to commence the music programme by receiving the offering of flowers from the singers. The singers of the session were Sri Kavalam Sreekumar, Sri Pranavam Sankaran Namboodiri and Sri Yogesh Sharma.

After invoking Ganesha and Guru with Vandana Shlokas, the music programme began with a Malayalam composition expressing the devotees love and longing for Bhagawan. Compositions of Thyagaraja, Purandaradasa and Meerabhai followed. The programme concluded with a traditional hymn – ‘Narayanam Bhaje Narayanam” – to which all devotees joined in chorus.

Mangala Aarathi followed. To the surprise and joy of all Bhagawan asked the Institute boys to sing a couple of Bhajans. Before returning to the Yajur Mandiram, Bhagawan instructed the State President of Kerala to announce that there would be Divine Discourse and drama in the evening.

In the evening at 4 p.m. even before Bhagawani arrived the Veda class by the Institute students commenced, covering the fourth and fifth Anuvakams of Namakam. Bhagawan graciously arrived into the Sai Kulwant Hall as the class was in progress, granting Darshan to all.

The first item of the evening was a brief speech by Master Abith, a student of the Sri Sathya Sai Vidyapeeth, Sreesailam, Quilandi near Calicut. He began by sharing the good fortune of the devotees in the opportunity to celebrate Onam in the Divine presence of Sai Vamana. He recounted and experience of how Sai Gayathri saved one of his teachers, as he fell into a well during a Seva activity. He also shared how Vibhoothi saved the life of a cow of the Gokulam from the fatal foot and mouth disease. He concluded by sharing his love and gratitude to Bhagawan on behalf of all students and staff of Sri Sathya Sai Vidyapeeth and all Sai devotees of Kerala.

After the brief narrative, Bhagawan graciously delivered the Onam discourse, with introductory verse as the glory of Bharath. Having been born in Bharath, one has to live up to its glory. Today’s education and technology is promoting a mad race after money, but Bhagawan reminded, Money comes and goes; morality comes and grows. One has to cultivate spiritual outlook and self confidence to realize the true meaning and purpose of life. Truth is the father of the whole world and Dharma is the mother. Then only can Shanthi and Prema prevail in the world. Bhagawan escorted the devotees to imbibe the virtue of sacrifice from Emperor Bali. Bhagawan congratulated the Bal Vikas children of Kerala for putting up excellent cultural programmes; Bhagawan also acknowledged the dedicated efforts of Mahilas in preparing them. Bhagawan reminded the devotees to keep up the standard set by them. He also urged them to watch the drama on Savitri (that was to follow) carefully and imbibe values of courage and confidence.

The next item was a dance drama entitled “Savithri – the embodiment of Shakthi”, by the Bal Vikas children of Alappuzha district. The drama depicted how Savithri recovered her dead husband from Yamadharma through her penance out of chastity and courage. The powerful dialogues and dramatic situation left the audience glued to the drama. The befitting conclusion was a beautiful, vibrant dance depicting Adi Parasakthi as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi, followed by all participants paying their salutations to Mother Sai. Bhagawan blessed all participants and Vasthram was gifted to all children as a token of Bhagawan’s grace.

Bhajans by the Institute students followed. The programme for the evening concluded with Mangala Aarathi to Bhagawan.

ReferenceOnam Video From Prashanti


Friday, September 12, 2008
Bhagawan was escorted into Sai Kulwant Hall at 9.40 am in a procession this Onam morning, led by a band by Srisailam school students and Vedam chanting children. After a full round of the Hall in His chair, Swami sat onstage as the Vedic hymns were chanted and the Panchavadyam troupe played. At 10 o’clock, songs by the devotees commenced. After half an hour of songs, Bhagawan accepted Arati. After that, He spoke to a couple of students and asked them to sing the Bhajans ‘Sri Raghunandana’ and ‘Ram Hare’ with alap. He spoke to Prof. Mukundan and asked him to announce the programme for the evening. It was 11 o’clock when Swami returned to His residence.

In the evening, the Vedam tutorial commenced at four o’clock as instructed by Bhagawan. As the chanting went on line by line, Swami arrived at 4.15 and went on a full round in His chair. Once He reached onstage, He asked Prof Mukundan to announce the programme for the evening. A student from Sri Sathya Sai Vidyapeeth, Srisailam, spoke briefly before Bhagawan stood up to deliver His Onam message. Swami praised the sacred land of Kerala and the devoted Keralites. He narrated the story of Mahabali and Vamana, concluding by mentioning the Savitri drama to be staged as the next programme. Balvikas chilren of Alappuzha district presented the Savitri drama at 5.30 pm. Swami blessed the participants with clothes and a group photograph, and asked for Bhajans to commence at 6.10 pm once He returned onstage. Prasadam was distributed and Bhagawan accepted Arati ten minutes later before returning to Yajur Mandir.

Thursday, September 11, 2008
This evening, Bhagawan arrived in Sai Kulwant Hall by 3.30 pm. After His darshan round, He came onstage and at 3.45, asked for the Vedam tutorial to begin. The second stanza of Rudram was chanted by all, and a revision of the first stanza was begun while Swami went to the interview room and returned. Once Swami came back onstage, He asked for the programme by the Kerala devotees to begin at 4.20 pm. This evening’s drama was presented by students from the Sri Sai Vidya Vihar along with Balvikas children. Inspiring episodes from the Ramayana were presented, interspersed with many songs. At the end of the 50 minute programme, Bhagawan blessed the children with a group photograph and clothes. A programme of “Traditional Bhajans” followed, before Swami accepted Arati fifteen minutes later. Before returning to His residence, Bhagawan interacted onstage for a while with Prof. Mukundan, the Kerala State Sai Organisations President, who conveyed to the children that Swami said He was very happy with the drama and that He would come to their school.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Devotees from Kerala have arrived in strength at Prasanthi Nilayam to celebrate their festival of Onam. This evening, Balvikas children from Malappuram district of Kerala presented a dance drama on Dasavataram. After a full darshan round in His chair, Swami reached the stage and started the proceedings by asking the Kerala State Sai Organisation President to introduce the drama at 4.50 pm. As the 50 minute dance drama concluded, Bhagawan moved down from the stage for group photographs with the children and blessed them with clothes from His Divine Hands. When He returned to the stage, He asked the students to sing bhajans. After twenty minutes, He accepted Arati at six o’clock and returned to His residence to the strains of Panchavadyam music played by the Kerala devotees.