Meet a Guru: Amma

The name “Amma” has been given to a woman whose real name is Mata Amritanandamayi Devi. The word Amma means “mother” (as the website points out, it means “mother” in a number of languages). She is known to many as “The Hugging Saint.”


It is said that Amma was spiritual from the time she was a child in 1950s Kerala. Though her parents tried to get her married, she resisted and devoted herself to Krishna instead. Apparently she was so known for her devotionals that people began to gather at her parents’ house wanting to be her disciples. In 1987 they convinced her to begin worldwide programs and they have been running ever since.


Starting when she was a teenager Amma hugged people to comfort them and it has become a form of darshan. She receives crowds of people and hugs each person who comes to her.She has said that she doesn’t expect to change the entire world, but to change individual people and that will change the world, since it is made up of people. “If you can touch people, you can touch the world.”

Amritanandamayi herself says, “Karma [action], jñana [knowledge] and bhakti [devotion] are all essential. If the two wings of a bird are devotion and action, knowledge is its tail. Only with the help of all three can the bird soar into the heights.” - Lead Us to the Light: A Collection of Mata Amritanandamayi’s Teachings Compiled by Swami Jnanamritananda

They say that she accepts most spiritual practices from many religions as ways to purify the mind. She is also known for devotional singing. She has worked in many charitable endeavors.

She has said that her religion is love.

My Experience

I have not personally experienced Amma or her teachings, but I have heard good things from several friends.

On the other hand, there is also some criticism. This article (The Story Her PR Team Won’t Tell You) has several complaints, some of which seem more like misunderstanding (that Amma is supposedly an incarnation of Kali and then confusion over whether Kali is a maternal figure; And I don’t see what the issue is with people having dolls of her to hug), other complaints I wouldn’t begin to know how to verify. The tone of the article is a little hysterical, but it’s worth checking into the merits of the complaints.

In the Huff Post article below I was a little startled to learn that Amma gets PR from Kelly Cutrone, who is not exactly known for her compassion (and it feels a little weird to me for a spiritual leader to have PR at all, I guess). So, as always, check up on the guru with all the information you can find before becoming devoted to one!

Learn More

A documentary was also made about her:

* I am not endorsing any of the teachers highlighted in this feature

Featured image is from


About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • jason
    • Ambaa

      That’s a great piece! Thank you for finding it.

  • Pratheesh

    Amma is a great source of inspiration for me.being a person born and brought up near to her birth place in Kerala,she has influenced me in a big way.
    My pranams to Amma.

  • rumitoid

    I met Amma on her visit to America in 1987, at Taos, NM. A number of my close friends were devotees and Amma stayed with one of those friends and blessed her land; also, I was there given my mantra. I went to her gatherings in June every year after that until 1994, finding nothing untoward other than my own inability to find self-realization. Despite that failing, I found these gatherings to be a truly inspiring and loving experience. The singing did give flight to my soul: I soared…even for a short period after the final note. (The reason for discontinuing my trips to those gatherings had nothing whatsoever to do with Amma.)

    • Ambaa

      Thank you for telling us about your experience! It sounds absolutely lovely.

    • Pratheesh

      If you are unable to find self-realization,that is not because of your inability but the path you had chosen to reach is not suitable for you.there are several ways to reach and it is up to the individual to find the suitable way for his or her liberation.Amma is showing one path just like Swami Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had don’t blame yourself and keep on searching for the right Guru who can answer you questions.The day you find him,you will see the path for your liberation.

      • Ambaa

        So true!

  • Beth

    Thanks for your article. I have personally experienced darshan with Amma and have spent time in her ashram in India. My experience with Amma has been so moving and deep and has left me with a most positive impression, that i carry with me all of the time. I was already on a spiritual path before meeting Amma, but what Amma has done for me is demonstrate how to take spiritual principles and apply them to my every day life in a practical way.

    And Amma herself truly lives what she teaches.. After seeing her for so many days and weeks on end, its astounding to witness that she really lives her life solely for the purpose of consoling suffering people, and for coordinating an unbelievable number of charitable activities. I’ve seen these charitable activities in action, and was moved to tears several times, seeing how Amma’s love and selflessness has inspired so many people to reach out their hands and help others as well. All in all, an amazing experience!

    • Ambaa

      It’s great to hear about positive experiences. Thank you for sharing that!

    • Ambaa

      I’m delighted to hear such positive experiences!

  • Ambaa

    What a great story! Thank you for that.

  • Ambaa

    Hmmm. Very good to know! I’m realizing that I need to take both praise and criticism of a guru with a lot of salt!

  • Ambaa

    Wonderful! Thank you for telling us about your experience!

  • Ambaa

    Wonderful story! Thank you for telling us about your experience. It is quite inspiring!