(Source: KGS Berlin)
My first meeting with Amma, the ‘Hugging Saint’ (Published in The Star, Friday April 13th 2012)
I have never met a ‘Saint’ in real-life. I thought it was just a concept you read about in ancient books, until I was enfolded in the arms of what the world lovingly refers to as “Amma”, or the “Hugging Saint”. She has hugged more than 30 million people round the world, over the last four decades. Just last weekend in Penang, about 25,000 people showed up for a hug. That’s not the shocking part. It was the fact that she sat in the same position for 19 hours, hugging people non-stop from Saturday 7pm till Sunday, 2pm the next day. Medical doctors I’ve spoken to cannot explain how she can sit for so many hours at a stretch without even taking a toilet break.
Apart from trying to embrace the world, one hug at a time, I was astounded to discover that her foundation donated US$23 million to tsunami relief in South Asia, according to the BBC. She has also received, along with Nelson Mandela and Kofi Anan, the Gandhi-King award for non-violence (named after Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King).
I wondered what it would be like to receive a hug from Amma who’s eyes never seem to lose the light of compassion for people from all walks of life, regardless of race, religion or background. Last week, when I found out that she was going to be at The Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre in Singapore, I decided to seize the opportunity of meeting her, even if it was only for a few seconds.
While waiting for my hug, I met an ex-banker who was present on that well-documented day, many years ago to witness what happened when a leper tried to receive a hug from Amma. He recalls the details as if it were yesterday. He said the leper had a strong stench emanating from his bleeding wounds. Everyone was horrified and repelled at the sight of him. Some ran away in fear and others stared at him in disgust, but Amma received the leper with open arms, cradling him like a child.
She once said, "If you take 10 steps towards me, I am ready to take a hundred steps towards you." She started kissing the wounds on his hands and then lovingly smeared ash over his body. When he left her, he was completely cured of his leprosy condition. That was almost 34 years ago and he still pays his respects to Amma, never forgetting what she had done for him. As for the banker, witnessing such an act of compassion changed his life. He quit his job and he is now right by Amma’s side, to this day as Swami Ramakrishnananda Puri.
Another one of Amma’s devotees of 20 years said an international reporter once asked Amma what she did in her free time. Amma could not quite answer the question because she does not have any free time. When people ask her if she needs to take a break to rest, Amma came up with this interesting analogy that a babysitter on a job may only come at certain times to look after someone’s children but a mother is a different story. She never has a day off.
(Source: National Geographic)
In fact, when she was done hugging everyone in Penang after 19 straight straight hours last weekend, people thought she would retire to her room to sleep but she decided to depart for Kuala Lumpur without delay because she said, “My KL children are already waiting.”
Well, the token number in my hand was almost up, five hours later. I was now mere seconds away from my meeting with Amma. I started getting a bit nervous. I really didn’t know what to expect. Suddenly, I was gathered up in her arms like a small child. I remember Amma stroking my back, as she prayed into my ear. In that moment, I completely forgot what I was thinking about. There was such a sense of peace to be with her. I felt accepted for who I was, and loved anyway. Just before I moved away, she reached out to kiss my hands and I was humbled by her affectionate gesture. She seemed to radiate with so much unconditional love, that it was hard not to be affected. I felt really blessed I met her.
(Source: Courtesy of M.A. Centre)
After speaking to a range of people from all walks of life, I realise that Amma’s hugs really do affect people in radically different ways. I met women who were trying to have a baby without success but fell pregnant after being embraced by the ‘Hugging Saint.’ Then there were those who felt nothing at all. Interestingly, our Star columnist T Selva felt nothing on his first hug with Amma but was so profoundly moved on his second hug, that he could barely stand to support his weight and consequently ended up writing a book about her, called ‘Journey with Amma’. Whether you feel nothing, or you feel a world of love in your heart when you meet her, I do recommend you get that hug!