The Real Mata Amritanandamayi
Some say Mata Amritanandamayi has performed miracles. Some say such things are just fairy tales. But no one can deny that Amma’s life has been an offering to humanity. Sitting 15, 20, sometimes more than 24 hours straight, ignoring all bodily needs just to dry one more tear, to hold one more person, to turn one more frown into a smile. Taking no private time, no compensation, nor anything else for herself… Just giving—hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year—for more than four decades, without ever taking a vacation. To me, that in itself is a miracle. Has anyone else in this world ever embraced everyone and anyone who comes to them like this? Even if you ignore everything else Amma has done, this is a fact that cannot be denied.
In Amritapuri, Amma typically comes to the darshan hall around 11:00 a.m. and immediately begins giving darshan. People from all walks of life, from all countries, of all ages, of all cultures, religions and economic backgrounds come to Amma. And it doesn’t matter if they are a Nobel Prize Laureate, a Grammy Award-winning musician, a politician, an 80-year-old man, a two-year-old child, a poor person or even a leper—Amma is always able to go to each person’s level, relate to them and communicate with them. Each person receives the same kindness, undivided attention and motherly love.
And Amma is not just physically embracing the people. She is also listening to their material problems, giving them guidance and answering their doubts regarding spirituality. And this is not only with regards to the people coming in the darshan line. To Amma’s left and right are also queues of people—the ashram residents, disciples and devotee-volunteers who manage Amma’s various educational and humanitarian organizations. They, too, have their questions. It’s common for there to be actual meetings right at Amma’s side, with Amma fully taking part, as the darshan continues. It seems Amma is able to intelligently discuss any topic—be it spirituality, economics, psychology, medical science, biotechnology, computer science or the heartbreak of a teenager. And, please, remember, this is someone who, ostensibly, has only a fourth-grade education.
Not to mention the long-distance meetings! Charitable-project managers in far-off places often call to get Amma’s direction. Devotees who are sick or in the hospital and others also call. Amma will speak with these people on the phone, pausing every now and then to ensure that each person coming in the line also receives her undivided attention—whispering into their ears, listening to their problems, drying their tears. It is truly something to see—Amma offering her service to the world, literally in all directions at once.
Then come the first-feedings—babies who come to get their first solid food from Amma’s hands. Following that are the first-writings—children who come to be initiated into the alphabet by Amma. Dozens of such children come every day. Amma does upanayana samskara for Brahmana children, bestowing them with their first sacred thread and initiating them into the Gayatri mantra. When requested, she even baptizes Christian children. And of course she gives mantras to all who ask. And these mantras are not always Hindu-centric. One can ask for any type of mantra—mantras centred on Hindu gods, on Buddha, on Allah, Christ and the Virgin Mary. Amma will give Jain mantras, Jewish mantras, Sikh mantras… People can also ask for mantras oriented upon formless expressions of God and abstract concepts of the divine such as love, light and compassion, etc. Amma never forces anyone to take a mantra based on a deity.
And while all this goes on, of course the darshan continues… Lunch passes by, and Amma does not eat. Dinner passes by, and Amma does not eat… Amma does not get up… She just remains there, taking person after person into her arms. Her stamina and energy never wane. She is as bright and shining 15 hours later as she was at the beginning. She only stops when each person has had a chance to interact with her, stretching the hours longer and longer, doing whatever she can to give each person the most attention possible. Often, before concluding, Amma even sends people out to scour the hall to see if there is anyone left who has not had a chance.
Only when the darshan finally ends, 15 or so hours later, does Amma finally stand up and walk back to her room—the same small, one-bedroom apartment she has lived since 1983. But, there, she doesn’t go to sleep. Anyone can see that her light remains on. Amma is on the phone, further discussing the details of various humanitarian programs run by the ashram—the disaster-relief programs, the houses-for-the-homeless programs, the pensions-for-the-poor programs, the orphanages, the free-medical-care programs, the scholarship programs, the environmental-protection projects… And there are also all the letters to read—the letters that come via the post office, that come via email, via her websites, the letters that are thrust in her hands during darshan, that are brought by other devotees on behalf of other people, that come from students at the university, that come from faculty, that come from disciples, that come from devotees… Amma spends time each day going through as many letters as she can. Amma’s attendant has said that Amma is even reading these letters while she is brushing her teeth.
Amma also manages to find a few minutes here and there to practice new devotional songs, which these days are often written in languages other than Amma’s mother tongue. Regardless, in order to make the devotees who speak those languages happy, Amma manages to find a few minutes here and there in her busy schedule to learn these songs, painstakingly taking the time to perfect the pronunciation.
And when Amma is touring foreign countries, her accommodation is very simple. Often her makeshift resting area is just a small locker room, tucked in the basement of the noisy program hall, without even a window or any form of air-circulation. Why? So as not to waste time that could be spent giving darshan in travelling back and forth from the hall to a devotee’s house. And even if the program is located at a nice hotel, as they often are in the U.S., Amma will still sleep on the floor just as she does in her room in Amritapuri. Amma’s way has always been one of simplicity.
And when it is finally time to lie down for a while, the sun is already up. Does Amma sleep? Maybe an hour or two, her attendant says, but it’s not a deep sleep—more like just resting the body. Anyway, a few hours later Amma is up again, reading more letters, getting ready for the coming day’s darshan, which will begin any moment now.
 This is all because of Amma’s expansive, all-inclusive vision. In Amritapuri, Christmas is one of the most celebrated of all the holidays. The devotees hang up paper stars of Bethlehem, there is a Christmas-themed play, and Amma herself cuts the cake and distributes it as prasad. In today’s world, finding a religious institution interested in celebrating the festivals of other cultures is extremely rare. After the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, when the Mata Amritanandamayi Math was rebuilding three villages that had been destroyed in the Bhuj District, Amma even built a mosque and offered to build a church.