first_imgLoved by millions, Mata Amritanandamayi or “Amma” as she is fondly known, is most famous for giving free hugs. Having hugged many Hollywood stars, Amma has transformed the spread of Hindu spirituality across the globe. Documentary films have been made on her, one of them (‘Darshan’ by Jan Kounen) was screened at Cannes in 2012. She was even interviewed for a TV channel in the famous city.‘Scholars’ such as Maya Warrier and Amanda Lucia, who for some reason do not identify as devotees of the hugging guru, have analysed her movement for academic audiences. But I am not interested in anthropological piffle that rejects the idea that a Mahatma is the Supreme Self.Anti-guru activism is a phenomenon. It is no longer about calling everything related to Hinduism as Hindutva. It is much deeper than that. It takes varied forms. For example, if you are an anonymous commentator on YouTube, you would post negative comments below a video of say, Sathya Sai Baba. Yet I grasp that it stems from a larger awareness on gurus. That there can be frauds (Nithyananda) shows why it exists in spades on the internet today. Perhaps what is needed is a list of fake and genuine gurus so that people differentiate between them and understand modern Hinduism in a wider context. However, the bilge on a genuine guru like Sathya Sai Baba immediately pulls one to conclude that even if there were a list, anti-guru activism will live on. This is because devotees are human beings too, they can become ex-devotees as soon as they start fighting with their erstwhile guru. After all, we are in the Kali Yuga.At a Christian college in Bangalore, my undergraduate years were spent examining themes like caste, gender and class. Little did I know I would turn to the work of more Western scholars of religion during my postgraduate degree at an estimable university in London. There I also learnt to think critically, which was what brought me to the Western scholastic tradition that I embraced for one-and-a-half years (I was a leftist during that period, not anymore). In both educational zones I was plagued by the notion that humanities students have to be critical of everything but themselves. This is why I chose to enter the more interesting space of dharma and consciousness later on, which pushed me to realise that everything I had learnt in Bangalore and London was, in point of fact not relevant and did not help in illuminating the way I wanted to lead my life.In the scholastic world, one has to lambast religious institutions and leaders. Especially if you are a scholar of Hinduism, you have to work towards obtaining an intellectual lens that resonates with your colleagues. If you do not belong to this cosy club, beware you will have to change your views! So I am glad I am not in that world anymore.Amma is known to be like Sathya Sai Baba who said, “Have a sense of pride in your motherland. Just as your mother has given birth to you, so too the land has given birth to you.” There is nothing wrong in being called ‘a Hindu nationalist’. I see the term as reflective of a truth – if you believe in the Hindu nation that accommodates all other identities, you are that. Hinduism allows other movements and religions to function simultaneously with it. Amma believes that Bharat Mata is the mother of our nation: “We are deeply indebted to the land and culture that has made us who we are. This land is our mother. This culture is our mother. If we allow that connection to be lost, we will become lost, like a kite whose string has snapped. We should have devotion, respect and reverence for our mother. Only then can we be considered ideal and virtuous children. We should be able to transcend the challenges of the modern times while remaining rooted in our culture.” At a time when adharmic forces are tearing our culture apart, her words are more pressing than ever.Take Amma’s views on communism: “If there is a true communist, Amma will drink his pada-tirtham. But who is there to truly live up to those ideals?” Can a self-realised soul who says these lines be bracketed as a Hindutva agent? I see Amma’s philosophies as conducive to the overall development of India which is undergoing constant attack from assorted thinkers who believe that Hinduism is casteism and vice versa. The binary of ‘left’ and ‘right’ ceases to exist when one thinks of her views on communism.I have been hugged by Amma six times. The last time was in Amritapuri, where I interviewed her. In this photo essay, I capture her and scenes from around her ashram.Born Sudhamani Idamannel, Mata Amritanandamayi, or “Amma” as she is fondly known, is a hugging saint from India. This is the main darshan hall in the Mata’s ashram in Amritapuri, Kerala.The Mata hugging a devotee.Farmers sift their crops near her ashram.A girl child gets blessed on stage on her birthday.The Mata embracing another devotee.The Mata smiling.Two young dancers wait backstage to perform at one of her public programmes.A close-up of the Mata.A selfie of a sadhak (the photographer) taken at a beach in Amritapuri.last_img