She is venerated as a living god and has a global army of followers. The Guardian‘s Jenny Kleeman went to experience the guru’s embrace for herself – and discovered a slick business empire raking in £10m a year:
In the sticky monsoon heat of early August in Kerala, I was standing on a stage in front of thousands of people, waiting for my turn to get a hug from a living god. The crowd jostling around me had been queuing for eight hours. Some people had travelled across the world to be here. Among the Indian voices, I could hear German, French, Spanish, American and English accents. Grown men were shaking as they approached the front of the queue, their faces wet with tears.
At the centre of the stage, in between two electric fans, sat a small, grey-haired figure. Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – “mother of immortal bliss”, otherwise known simply as Amma, or “mum” – is said to be the divine embodiment of pure, selfless love. This 55-year-old is believed by her followers to have been born with the unique ability to touch a person’s emotional core and solve all the troubles of modern life, just through a hug.