What do stuffed dolls have to do with enlightenment? Lots, if you’re into the cult of Amma, known also as Ammachi, Mata Amritanandamayi, and “the hugging saint.”
Amma’s devotees talk to dolls made in her image that are sold on Amma retreats. They tell the doll their problems, seek its comfort, and listen in their minds for its advice. Amma calls the devotees her children, and clucks syllables like baby talk into their ear in her trademark ritual of lining people up, watching them kneel before her, then embracing them.
She tells them she is their mother and that she hears their prayers. She says she’d no more charge them for her darshan (i.e., being in her presence) than a mother would charge an infant for breast milk. Yet insiders have estimated Amma rakes in upwards of 3 million dollars in a 7-week tour, through donations and sales of items like her toothbrush, fragments of a garment she has sat on, Amma dolls, Amma posters, and books by devotees extolling her divinity.
I’ve seen an email from her former joint-secretary alleging she cooks the books, that the money she gathers for charity doesn’t go to the charities she claims. I’ve read accounts by her former monks of the unexplained wealth of Amma’s family, how her charity hospitals won’t take the very poor because the poor don’t have money enough for treatment. I’ve read about “suicides” and unexplained deaths of ashram devotees. So many dead bodies have appeared in the waters outside the ashram that The Indian Express, New Delhi’s daily newspaper, printed an account of local citizens demanding a police investigation into the matter.
I’ve read of organ selling and beatings. I saw a video of Amma performing a puja (worship ceremony) to a portrait of Sai Baba, the guru who gives penis massages to his favorite boy disciples. I read a letter from a former Amma monk alleging he was told by an Indian holy man not to share what he knows about Amma if he values his safety. Full story...