Humanitarian 'Amma' stops through LA for thousands of hugs

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LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Indian spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, or Amma (Mother) as she is known (C) hugs people on October 23, 2008 in Cergy-Pontoise, outside Paris during a few days trip in France. Amma, revered as a saint by her followers and a widely respected humanitarian, offers a hug to everyone who approaches her. Worldwide, Amma is said to have hugged at least 30 million people in the past 30 years.

A woman who’s reportedly hugged more than 28 million people all over the world is visiting Los Angeles to add thousands more hugs to her total. KPCC Brian Watt observed the goings-on at the Radisson Hotel near L.A. International Airport.

People arrived three hours early for an opportunity to embrace the woman known as “Amma,” the hugging saint. They filled a hotel ballroom and prayed and meditated for a while before the hugging began.

Amma takes each person’s head in her hands and presses it into her shoulder, chanting quietly in his or her ear for 30 seconds, sometimes longer. The experience moves many people to tears. Some arrive with questions about their future – or their life’s mission.

For almost four decades, Amma’s stated mission has been to embrace the world for peace and harmony. The daughter of a poor fisherman in Southern India says that she’s not asking anyone to change their religion or adopt one, and that her only religion is love. The hugging is just the best-known part.

Amma’s charities have rebuilt tsunami-destroyed homes and fed homeless people in the Southland. Los Angeles is one stop on her annual 10-city tour of the United States.

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