Stories by Grace Wyler

  • Religion: Amma, the Hugging Saint

    Last week a Manhattan convention center was the scene of a literal love-in when an estimated 15,000 people lined up to get free hugs from Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as "Amma" or the "Hugging Saint." The 54-year-old native of India has hugged 27 million people worldwide, say her followers, and has gained a fan base in the West, where she's wrapping up a 10-city North American tour. Accompanied by white-robed groupies who caravan behind her tour bus, Amma, considered a saint by her acolytes, spends upwards of 18 hours a day giving hugs. "I am not like a battery that needs to be recharged, I am eternally connected to the power source," she says through a translator. (Amma speaks only Malayalam.) Hindu by birth, she does not affiliate with a specific religion—"My religion is love"—and encourages people to find faith through service. Amma is a trademarked brand with nonprofit status and volunteer projects that include a hospital in India and soup kitchens in the United States....