Amritanandamayi is lovingly called "Amma"(the mother) by millions of people, especially living in southern parts of India and is slowly emerging in the same light as the next Mother Teresa of India.
She renders comfort by hugging the people who approach her like children coming to their mother for finding peace and solace. Many call her the "hugging saint".
Born to fishermen parents in Alappad village in Kollam district of Kerala, as Sudhamani, she is today's "Amma" or "Mata Amritanandamayi". She is valued as a saint for her philanthropic acts especially performed at the tragic times like Tsunami, Katrina, or the recent earthquake. The lady who is today a guardian to thousands of orphans, widows and disabled people, had a very humble beginning, with her parents facing an uphill task to feed their eight children. The 52-year-old "Amma" has become a household name in entire South India.
She now plans to set up a rehabilitation centre for sex workers and the debt-trapped farmers. "I have plans to set up a rehabilitation centre for sex workers and help debt-trapped farmers, who are driven to commit suicide. I want to open schools for their children and try to take care of them. I cannot provide financial help to relieve them of their debts," says Amritanandamayi in a rare interview to Asian News International.
"Amma" is looked upon with great hope by victims of any natural calamity regardless of their religious identity. She has set up an orphanage in Nagapattinam, taking care of about 350 children who lost their parents during Tsunami, which killed thousands of people and left many more homeless on December 26, 2004.
Her Ashram has already constructed and handed over 1,500 tsunami and earthquake resistant houses in Azheekkal village in Kerala and over 1,000 in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, besides providing some 550 new boats and fishing nets and repairing an equal number of boats.
Her help reaches beyond geographical boundaries of nations. Recently, Amritanandamayi's Ashram donated one million dollars to Clinton Foundation for relief to the victims of the recent Katrina hurricane in the United States.
She says that her affection is for all. She does not want anyone to treat her as God. The Saint's popularity and acts of charity have been taken note of by the United Nations even, which recognized her Mutt (or the holy place) as a non-government organization (NGO) with Special Consultative Status.
Amrita Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation project run by her is a 23 million dollar undertaking, covering a broad range of relief efforts in India and Sri Lanka. Though the relief fund earmarked for Sri Lanka is a mere 30 million rupees, her followers have undertaken projects for nearly 2 billion rupees.
Her hermitage is a place for people from all religions -- Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. All get the motherly hug of Amma as she symbolizes the composite culture of India.
"There are some religious leaders who believe that salvation is only through one or the other religion. There is no harm in sharing the grief of anyone, but one should not barter religion for relief," says Amma, the Saint.
She says that she had offered to adopt three villages in the quake-hit areas in Kashmir and also made an offer to Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf to send relief workers or relief material to the quake-affected areas on the other side of the divide, but found no positive response.