NEW YORK DAILY NEWS 7-19-2004
MANHATTAN - They came by the thousands, from the city and from all over the country, just looking for a hug.
But Mata Amritanandamayi - known to her devotees as Amma - is no ordinary hugger.
The 50-year-old woman from India, who wears a white sari and diamond-studded nose ring, is nicknamed the Hugging Saint for the embraces that have earned her a worldwide following.
By early yesterday morning, more than 2,000 people had packed the hall at the Manhattan Center on W. 34th St., eager for a moment in the arms of the spiritual guru.
Organizers expected 15,000 people to collect hugs during the three-day visit, which ends today.
Amma, whose name means mother in her native Malayalam language, grew up in India amid intense poverty. At age 8 or 9, she began spontaneously hugging people as a way of showing her compassion for them, her followers said.
Some people believe Amma’s touch has the power to heal, though her handlers say she is not a faith healer.
Rebecca Writer, 42, took two months off from her job as a real estate agent to travel with her two daughters and follow Amma across the country.
"I marvel at how many people have been touched by her," said Writer, of San Ramon, Calif. "Being with Amma is like riding the express train to true happiness and peace."