"I don’t say I can do it 100 percent. Attempting to change the world [completely] is like trying to straighten the curly tail of a dog. But society takes birth from people. So by affecting individuals, you can make changes in the society and, through it, in the world. You cannot change it, but you can make changes. The fight in individual minds is responsible for the wars. So if you can touch people, you can touch the world."
Mātā Amṛtānandamayī is an Indian guru from Parayakadavu (now partially known as Amritapuri), Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, in the state of Kerala. Born to a family of fishermen in 1953, she was the third child of Sugunanandan and Damayanti. She has six siblings.
Amṛtānandamayī's darshana has been the centerpiece of her life, as she has received people nearly every day since the late 1970s. Given the size of the crowds coming to seek Amṛtānandamayī's blessings, there have been times when she has given darshana for more than 20 continuous hours.
Amṛtānandamayī rejected numerous attempts by her parents to arrange for her marriage. Her life took a different path instead. In 1981, after spiritual seekers had begun residing at her parents' property in Parayakadavu in the hopes of becoming Amṛtānandamayī's disciples, the Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Math (MAM), a worldwide foundation, was founded. Amṛtānandamayī continues to serve as chairperson of the Math. Today the Mata Amritanandmayi Math is engaged in many spiritual and charitable activities.
Sreeni Pattathanam, the Kerala-based head of the Indian Rationalist Association, wrote Matha Amritanandamayi: Sacred Stories and Realities, a controversial critique first published in 1985. The author claimed that all the "miracles" of Amṛtānandamayī were falsified. It was further written that there had been many suspicious deaths in and around her ashram that required police investigation.
In 1987, at the request of devotees, Amṛtānandamayī began to conduct programs in countries throughout the world. She has done so annually ever since.
On 9 August 2002, Deshabhimani, a Malayalam daily newspaper owned by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), published a similar account, demanding investigation into the same deaths Pattathanam found suspicious. On 24 September 2002, Deshabhimani officially apologised for the report, publishing an article titled "Report that Suspicious Deaths at Amritanandamayi Math Are Growing Was Incorrect". The article stated: "We now state with conviction that there was nothing suspicious about deaths that happened in the Math. Some of the deaths mentioned in the article did not even take place at the Math." The article went on to explain that relatives of the deceased had personally contacted Deshabhimani in order to correct the misinformation conveyed in the original article. In several cases, the editors noted the relatives had contacted Deshabhimani to explain they were at the bedsides of elderly kin who had died of natural causes, with no suspicious aspects regarding the passings.
In 2004, the Kerala State Government sanctioned Criminal prosecution of Patthathanam, the owner of the publishing company, and the printer of the book on grounds that religious sentiments had been offended and for the libelous statements in the book. The order followed directions from the Kerala High Court to the Home Department for considering an application by T.K. Ajan, a resident of the Mata Amṛtānandamayī Math. CPI leader Thengamam Balakrishnan protested the move against Pattathanam.
In August 2005, Amṛtānandamayī was attacked by a man named Pavithran. He was sitting with other followers praying and singing in front of Amṛtānandamayī. He then rushed to Amṛtānandamayī with a knife, but was overpowered by a group of disciples. Amritanandamayi's disciple Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri said Pavithran was of "unstable mind". Amritanandamayi, who forgave Pavithran, said, "All those who are born will die one day. I am going ahead keeping this reality in mind. I will carry on. I will continue to give darshan to the devotees coming here to meet me."
In June 2007, Shantanu Guha Ray wrote in Tehelka weekly that Amṛtānandamayī Math, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Baba Ramdev, and other NGOs and religious organisations had large annual turnover of INR crores. In June 2007, Novelist Paul Zacharia wrote on Tehelka that Amṛtānandamayī is free from the typical scrutiny on money that has foreign connections. In May 2008, the President of Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham, U. Kalanathan, urged the state government to conduct an enquiry into Amṛtānandamayī's assets. He said the sources of her income and its utilisation should be investigated. In June 2008, Writer Sukumar Azhikode demanded the state government to probe the source of foreign aid received by her organisation.
Amṛtānandamayī's disciples have transcribed her conversations with devotees and spiritual seekers to create approximately a dozen books of her teachings known as Awaken Children. The addresses she has delivered at various international forums have also been published in book form. Beginning in April 2011, a bi-weekly message from Amṛtānandamayī has appeared in the Lifestyle section of the Express Buzz Sunday supplement of the New Indian Express newspaper. She also writes a regular blog in the spiritual publication Speaking Tree.
On 1 August 2012, a 25-year-old law student from Bihar, Satnam Singh Mann, attempted to barge onto the podium of Amṛtānandamayī at her ashram in Kollam. According to police, he was screaming and reciting words in Arabic. He was overpowered by devotees, who handed him over to the police.
In 2013, Gail Tredwell, a former disciple of Amṛtānandamayī, self-published a memoir of her 1980-99 tenure in Amṛtānandamayī's ashram. She made some allegations in this memoir as well as media interviews which preceded and followed the release of the book. The allegations, including the claim that Tredwell was physically assaulted by Amṛtānandamayī, have not been substantiated. Both Amṛtānandamayī and representatives of her ashram denied the allegations, saying that they were untrue and were aimed at exacting revenge for unfulfilled desires. In an interview in April 2014, Amṛtānandamayī spoke in depth about the incident, saying, "Even now, Amma is only filled with love for that daughter. I am praying that virtue and goodness come. Time will shine forth the truth."
In 2014, for the first time in history, major Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian Leaders, as well as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist Leaders (including Amṛtānandamayī), met to sign a shared commitment against modern-day slavery organized by the Global Freedom Network; the declaration they signed calls for the elimination of slavery and human trafficking by the year 2020.
On December 9, 2015, Amritanandamayi donated 5 crores of rupees ($736,486) to the flood relief fund established by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Additionally, at Amritanandmayi's direction, 500 volunteers from the Mata Amritanandamayi Math helped to rescue victims and distributed food, clothing, medicines, and other essentials.
As part of her chores, Amṛtānandamayī gathered food scraps from neighbours for her family's cows and goats, through which she was confronted with the intense poverty and suffering of others. She would bring these people food and clothing from her own home. Her family, which was not wealthy, scolded and punished her. Amṛtānandamayī also began to spontaneously embrace people to comfort them in their sorrow. Despite the reaction of her parents, Amṛtānandamayī continued. Regarding her Desire to embrace others, Amṛtānandamayī commented, "I don’t see if it is a man or a woman. I don't see anyone different from my own self. A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a Doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering."