Globally known as Amma, meaning "Mother," Mata Amritanandamayi has developed a massive transnational humanitarian organization based in hugs. She is familiar to millions as the “hugging saint,” a moniker that derives from her elaborate darshan programs wherein nearly every day ten thousand people are embraced by the guru one at a time, events that routinely last ten to twenty hours without any rest for her. Although she was born in 1953 as a low-caste girl in a South Indian fishing village, today millions revere her as guru and goddess, a living embodiment of the divine on earth.
Reflections of Amma focuses on communities of Amma’s devotees in the United States, showing how they endeavor to mirror their guru’s behaviors and transform themselves to emulate the ethos of the movement. This study argues that “inheritors” and “adopters” of Hindu traditions differently interpret Hindu goddesses, Amma, and her relation to feminism and women’s empowerment because of their inherited religious, cultural, and political dispositions. In this insightful ethnographic analysis, Amanda J. Lucia discovers how the politics of American multiculturalism reifies these cultural differences in “de facto congregations,” despite the fact that Amma’s embrace attempts to erase communal boundaries in favor of global unity.
List of Illustrations
Note on Language
Situating Amma as Female Guru in the Context of American Multiculturalism
A Darshan Embrace: Experiencing Authenticity and Feeling Recognition
Devi Bhava: Revelation and Performance of the Guru as Goddess
The Avatar-Guru and Ordinary Women: the Boundaries of Mimetic Behavioral Models
Culturally-Situated Testimonies: Differing Interpretations of the Role of the Goddess
Congregational Dynamics: Growing Pains En Route from the Particular to the Universal
Multiculturalism, Universalism, and Communal Identity: the Guru in the American Diaspora
Current Literature Engaging the Field of Contemporary Gurus
Amanda J. Lucia is Assistant Professor of Religion at UC Riverside.
"Lucia's substantial field work covers both institutional and personal aspects of groups of Ammachi devotees. This novel analysis is an important contribution towards understanding the contemporary phenomenon of transnational gurus in the US."—Karen Pechilis, Distinguished Humanities Professor at Drew University and author most recently of Interpreting Devotion: The Poetry and Legacy of a Female Bhakti Saint of India