The Miracle Hug Lady

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In 1993, Amma served as president of the Centenary Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. In 1995, she spoke at the United Nations' 50th anniversary commemoration.

Cranky New Yorkers Take Hug Break

At Columbia University, many Hindu people kneel on the lines. So, too, do Christians, Jews, and, presumably, people of other faiths. Amma rarely preaches. She says she embraces all faiths. It seems her doctrine is fairly universal — she hugs people as a mother hugs a child.

Her followers refer to this hug as a darshan — Sanskrit for an audience or session in the presence of a saint. Her U.S. spokesman Rob Sidon says, "Other holy people in India don't allow themselves to be touched like this. Amma breaks with tradition."

I look around me. Here are fellow New Yorkers — rich, educated, and hardened to flimflams. Why do these people wait for hours? Again I ask, where does she get her energy?

I am next in line, kneeling before Amma, watching her work. She sits on a wooden chair adorned with flowers and caresses a 35-ish man, whispering into his ear. Her eyes are closed. I can't imagine that they have never before met.

Some call it supernatural. There are stories that she has cured lepers. But that is in India. In a city of cranky Americans, it's simply a miracle that hundreds of people will wait in line for something that, theoretically, should be waiting for them when they get home — a simple hug.

"I'm not religious," a 28-year-old banker tells me. "I saw her four years ago in Houston. Now, I just go to her every chance I get. She may be just an old woman who hugs. But there is some beauty in this. Maybe we have to appreciate our need to hug and be hugged — to care for each other."

A Hug and Chocolate Kiss

The area around Amma is crowded, yet serene. Devotees follow an honor system under which those who had never participated in a darshan are allowed to move to the front of the line.

Now my time with Amma approaches. She smiles, pulls me to her chest. I rock back and forth with her. She squeezes my elbows, speaks in her native tongue, and her assistant hands me an apple, a rose petal and a Hershey's chocolate kiss.