The story of Amma’s life is a story about the power of an idea—that each of us has a responsibility to help those less fortunate. Ultimately, it is a story about what happened when one person decided to offer her life wholeheartedly for the sake of others. Learn more about Amma’s early life, the beginnings of her spiritual and humanitarian mission, and how she spends her time today.
“Love is our true essence.”
Witnessing the suffering
Amma was born in 1953 into a fishing family in Kerala, India. From a very young age, without anyone teaching her, Amma composed spiritual songs and meditated for hours on end.
When Amma was in the fourth standard, her mother fell ill. Nine years old at the time, Amma had to drop out of school to care for the household and her seven brothers and sisters. It was at this time that Amma was confronted with the great disparities of life.
Amma narrates: “I would go to about 60 houses each day to gather tapioca peels and leftover rice gruel for our cows and goats. At that time, I saw many people suffering. Even if I went at 5:00 in the evening, I saw people who had not eaten all day. I would give them whatever I could. Seeing their hardships, I wondered why some people suffered so much while others were enjoying life.”
Amma’s heart was consumed with the suffering she witnessed.
Amma says that when she questioned the reason for such suffering, the answer that came to her was that the fate of each individual is ultimately due to their karma—a result created by their previous actions. Reflecting on this, Amma then thought to herself, “If someone falls into a ditch because of their karma, then what is my duty?”
Amma says she heard a voice from within reply, “Then, it is your duty to lift them up and help them.”
Thus, it was from this nine-year old’s contemplation on human suffering that her path in life was set forth: she would always do whatever she could to help others.
It was when consoling a crying person that Amma first put someone on her shoulder.
Witnessing this, the next person also wished for Amma to put them on her shoulder. Soon this became Amma’s way, pulling everyone who came to her into a motherly embrace.
A young woman in a traditional rural Indian village giving hugs in public created quite an uproar, both in the surrounding villages as well as within her family. But Amma simply didn’t view men and women differently. Having set her path in life, she would not be deterred.
The river of love that flowed through Amma could not be obstructed. As news spread of the transformative power of Amma’s compassionate embrace, more and more people came to see her.
A Spiritual Master
In the late 1970s, hundreds of people were regularly coming for Amma’s embrace, and a few of them also saw in Amma a spiritual master who could lead them forward on the spiritual path. Soon the first few disciples settled in Amma’s ashram, which then consisted of nothing more than her family home. Those first disciples often slept under the stars or in the cowshed. Even once straw huts were built, they would regularly turn them over to devotees who needed to stay the night before returning home. Occasionally, Amma would even go out into the surrounding villages to beg for rice in order to feed them.
In 1981 the Mata Amritanandamayi Math was officially registered as an ashram.
At the invitation of admirers from abroad, Amma embarked on her first world tour in 1987, holding programs in Singapore, the United States and Europe. The majority of these were held in people’s living rooms or in small communal spaces.
From then on, Amma held programs throughout the world every year.
Amma’s Humanitarian Programs
In 1989, the ashram had finally managed to raise enough money to build its first temple. As construction was about to begin, the administrators of a local orphanage came to confide in Amma. They had no more money and had no choice but to send their 500 children back onto the street. Amma immediately redirected the funds intended for the construction of the temple to take care of the orphans.
With this, Embracing the World, Amma’s network of humanitarian activities, was born. In the 1990s, Amma also began to be recognized internationally for her message and acts of peace, compassion, and tolerance.
A Visionary, a Humanitarian
& Spiritual Leader
Amma has served the world-community for decades, imparting wisdom, strength and inspiration. Through her extraordinary acts of love & inner strength, Amma has endeared herself to millions and inspired thousands to follow in her path of selfless service.
Amma holds free public programs throughout India, Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan as well as Malaysia, the Middle East, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South America and the United States. In her talks, she offers words of wisdom and guidance on both personal fulfillment as well as the most pressing matters of our time.
From climate change to terrorism, cross cultural tensions to poverty and women’s rights, Amma’s observations invite each of us to get involved in the process of rebuilding a concerned and caring society.
To this day, Amma concludes her programs by embracing each person attending the event. These personal, one-on-one meetings take up the vast majority of Amma’s time. Amma has given this embrace, known as her darshan, to more than 40 million people throughout the world. She has been known to give darshan for more than 22 hours without interruption.