Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi
Not too long ago, on September 27th 1953, in a poor village near the remote backwaters of Kerala in Southern India, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, affectionately known as “Amma” or the “Hugging Saint,” was born. From her early childhood, she would spend long periods of time sitting in silence or singing to Krishna as a form of prayer. Her divine moods and meditative states seemed unusual to her family, and as a result, she was mistreated and had a difficult childhood.
At the age of nine, when her mother fell ill, Amma left school to care for her seven siblings and immediate family. Whatever domestic chore was piled up on her, she did it happily without ever complaining. She also went to work at the homes of her relatives. As she went from home to home to cook, clean and wash clothes, Amma became deeply troubled and confused by the suffering and poverty she saw all around her. Although she had very little for herself, she shared her small portion of rice with the starving, gathered her family’s clothes and gave them to the poor, bathed the elderly. Like children who seek comfort in their mothers’ arms, people from her village and around would go to the young girl for refuge and a hug. This is how Amma started to give “darshan.” Darshan means to have a vision of the divine or to be in the presence of a holy being. Amma adds to it a loving hug.
Nowadays, not unlike the olden times, people continue to seek Amma’s blessing, but it is now she who travels around the world to offer her love in the form of an intimate hug. Whether a person is young or old, healthy or sick, rich or poor, Amma accepts them with the same affection and warmth. Amma does not care what we look like, how much we have, or where we come from. She takes us all in the way a mother takes her own children into her arms.
Yoga is a tantric practice. The Sanskrit word tantra means “to weave”, referring also to a physical string, which denotes continuity. This comes from the Sanskrit roots tan and tra. ‘Tan’ is “to stretch” or “to extend” and “Tra” means “to cross over”. By welcoming or embracing with open arms anyone she meets, Amma reaches across the space between herself and others, thus weaving a connection.
The aim of yoga is to recognize the divine essence in all of creation, to realize that we are all connected. To attain this wisdom, it is helpful to start connecting with one other living being by extending something of ourselves – a kind word, a gentle touch, a smile of acknowledgment. When instead of seeing others only in our peripheral vision, we actually turn to face them and acknowledge them, the way we often acknowledge one another in a yoga class, we begin to shrink the divide between ourselves and others, we begin to experience togetherness, hence yoga. Yoga means to join.
Amma teaches us that without connecting to others, no progress in yoga can come. Even if we meditate, practice asana and chant devotional songs, if we do not reach out to others, it is like rowing a boat that is tied to a dock. In the divine example of this holy being, let us untie our hearts from the dock and row towards our own holiness and divinity. Let us celebrate the life of this great Saint and immerse ourselves in Her teachings so that our own saintliness can manifest.