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Indian mystic is no saint, say analysts

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Indian mystic is no saint, say analysts

Fri Sep 26,12:16 AM ET

 

 

COCHIN, India (AFP) - An Indian mystic who embraces

her devotees as a form of blessing may bring

individual comfort but lacks the depth of character to

develop this into a mainstream movement, analysts

said.

 

They also warned that Mata Amritanandamayai, known as

Amma (mother) or the "Hugging Saint" for the more than

the 25 million hugs she has given to her devotees, was

playing a "dangerous" political game by cosying up to

Hindu fundamentalists.

 

Amma is currently celebrating her birthday, brushing

shoulders with Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal

Krishna Advani and President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

 

About 8,000 foreign devotees from 191 countries are

participating in the festivities along with Indian

business and global religious leaders in this southern

Indian city of Cochin, the financial hub of Kerala

state.

 

"There are two aspects to her personality," said B.R.P

Bhaskar, Kerala's noted political columnist. "One, she

came up facing tremendous odds and opposition from her

community. The other is her ability to attract

foreigners.

 

"Such a huge fan following for a holy woman has not

been witnessed in recent years and I think it is due

to problems of unemployment, job losses and the

resultant frustration creeping in," Bhaskar told AFP.

 

He said the hospitals, hospices, schools and homes

built for the poor were funded by donations received

from her devotees, mainly foreigners, and drew a

parallel with Hindu holy man Satya Sai Baba.

 

"There is a link to both. The disciples realised the

potential of both figures early, but in the case of

Baba the movement failed to be one of social

awakening," Bhaskar said. "The same is bound to happen

in Amma's case."

 

India has produced numerous holymen such as Baba, Sri

Sri Ravishankar and the former Baghwan Rajneesh, but

Amma is the only holy woman to hit the global

limelight.

 

In Kerala, lower caste Hindu holy man Sree Narayana

Guru in the early nineteenth century helped the

"untouchables" gain entry to temples and broke the

rigid caste systems that existed then.

 

"Hugging by Amma will certainly bring a level of

personal comfort to a follower. But if you compare

with Guru then we see the social upliftment angle

completely missing from the picture," Bhaskar said.

 

Organisers said four million devotees were expected to

attend four-day festivities ending Saturday.

 

On the first two days beginning Wednesday about

100,000 devotees streamed into a local stadium braving

the heat, waving flags with Amma's picture and singing

songs praising her.

 

Paul Zachariah, a writer in both Malayalam (local

language of Kerala) and English, slammed Amma's

movement, arguing that a personality cult was not

healthy.

 

He said her organisation's close links to the Hindu

radical groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh

(RSS, National Volunteer Corps) was a source of worry,

a view backed by columnist Bhaskar, but denied by

officials of Amma's organisation.

 

"It is a fact that the RSS has taken over the

organisation lock, stock and barrel. She is proving to

be, knowingly or unknowingly, dangerous political

material. These political parties will use her at some

point of time for their ends.

 

"It is only when the RSS took over the organisation

that the upper caste Hindus' acceptance came," he told

AFP.

 

"She is coming out as a pawn in a bigger game. The

birthday bash has been an orchestrated one with

foreign funds playing a big role. Devotees have been

offered free shelter and food," Zachariah said.

 

Columnist Bhaskar echoed Zachariah's views.

 

"The ruling (BJP) party sees there are political gains

to be made," Bhaskar said. "There is no other reason I

see for the deputy prime minister to attend this event

(birthday bash)."

 

Amma was born in 1953 to a poor fishing family. At 10

her parents took her out of school to do family

chores.

 

She refused marriage and became a mystic, starting

from a young age to embrace her devotees, a behaviour

that the traditional Kerala society initially

condemned. Some threw stones at her.

 

Her fame spread and in 1993 she served as president of

the Centenary Parliament of World Religions in

Chicago. Two years later she was a speaker at the

United Nations anniversary commemoration.

 

In 2002 she received the Gandhi-King Award for

Non-Violence, previously awarded to Kofi Annan and

Nelson Mandela.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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