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Open Heart, Open Arms

An exceptional life that began with the simplest instinct to hug

World Hugging Day is celebrated on January 21, and we think you’d agree it’s a cause well worth celebrating every day of the year. One woman has made hugging a spiritual mission and worldwide movement, and we found her story fascinating. 

Often, the world’s most influential leaders begin in the least extraordinary of circumstances, and that is indeed true for Mata Amrtanandamayi Devi, known today as “Mother Amma,” or simply, Amma. 

Born in 1953, her family were fishermen in India. As she gathered scraps of food from the community to feed the family animals, she witnessed the poverty and sadness that so many people face on a daily basis. Even as a child, though she was admonished by Hindu custom that women and girls should remain in the background, and though she received scoldings from her family, her response to her neighbors’ despair was to reach out – to embrace them in a hug. A deeply spiritual person, Amma knew this was her gift, and she followed her heart. 

Today, crowds follow her! She meets her flock of thousands in cities around the world — people who are content to wait in hours-long queues for a three-second hug. Amma’s charitable organization, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, claims that she has embraced more than 33 million people over the past 30 years. In addition to the famous free public audiences, her foundation’s work also includes charitable projects to feed the hungry, build shelter for those in need, orphanages, schools, natural disaster response and much more. explains, “With this simple yet profound conviction — that each of us has a responsibility to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate — Amma moved forward with confidence in her life of service and compassionate care for all beings, uniquely expressed by the motherly embrace she offers to all who seek solace in her arms.” 

It’s a profound lesson, in the simplest of terms that every human can understand. Our daily actions – even small connections with individuals – have the power to move the world.