Guru Amma in Manchester: I went to debunk ‘the hugging saint;’ 10 years later, I’m still a believer

Amma serves as a testament to the power of love and compassion.

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

World-renowned guru Amma, “The Hugging Saint,” is coming to Manchester July 1.

“Amma presents the kind of leadership we need for our planet to survive. This is the most heroic person I’ve probably ever met. “

~ Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize Winner

Her full name is Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, but she is affectionately (and more simply) known as Amma. The first time I went to receive a hug from Amma, I wasn’t a huggy person. If someone unexpectedly touched me I often had the physical reaction to pull away. So 10 years ago, I was surprised to find myself in a room full of interesting characters and seekers in Massachusetts, all looking to receive Darshan (what Amma calls her act of giving a hug or blessing) from this small woman clad in a simple white Sari.

I went not for the hug, but to debunk this woman who I was pretty sure was there to relieve people of their money.

I had a dear friend spiritually seeking at the time and I watched as she was asked to participate in spiritual event after spiritual event all for a hefty price. She was going. And this was my opportunity to explain to her in detail how she was being taken advantage of.

To my surprise it was completely free. I didn’t spend one dime while I was there. I brought my own snacks so I didn’t even need to purchase a meal. Everyone was kind and inviting. And what I’ve learned over the years is that everyone there is a volunteer willing to spend their weekend, working together, shepherding thousands of people into Amma’s arms. It was inspiring. Now Amma is coming to Manchester this weekend. That’s why I write for The Soap Box now. Manchester has been suffering through this opioid crisis for a while. A compassionate hug, free for anyone seeking solace, is coming to us on July 1st and 2nd.

Amma serves as a testament to the power of love and compassion. From giving away a simple hug (right around 36 million worldwide now), she’s built a movement based on service and doing charitable works. She spends up to 22 hours a day spreading her message through her hugs. She is the founder of a network of charitable organizations called Embracing the World, as well as a University and a top not-for-profit hospital in India. She’s received UN Humanitarian awards, sat with the Pope to work on eliminating human trafficking and invited to speak at conferences globally. Find out more here,from teaching rural villagers to build toilets, to India’s first double hand transplant.

Amma hugging in Boston in 2010.

When I received my hug that first year, I’m not sure I can describe what I felt. And I believe the experience is deeply personal for anyone who receives one. I keep going back year after year to receive that boost of inspiration and unconditional love that Amma offers to anyone who seeks it. I like to sit back and watch as she hugs person after person without ever taking a break … for hours and hours. I’ve seen her hug for 11 hours straight through the night. I also give back through volunteering at the event, and do my own part to welcome newcomers. And I leave inspired through witnessing the power of love, compassion, and service to make real change in our world.

If you’re planning on being in town this weekend, why not cross an item off your bucket list by being blessed by an Indian Guru? There are four free programs in total. The morning programs are Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. It is suggested you be there by 8:30 a.m. The Saturday evening program will have music and singing, then the hugs start. The Sunday evening program will have a group ceremony for world peace. Then, more hugging!

On my first night 10 years ago, I received my hug at 3 in the morning. Hugs often continue well into the next morning. The event website has more info on the programs, arrival times, and a guide for newcomer.

And if you’re worried about standing in line for hours, don’t. You receive a token for a hug with a letter and number. When your token with letter and number are announced, that is when you can go up and get a hug. It’s orderly. Otherwise you’re free to walk around, leave the building, etc., while you wait.

All are welcome, and I think it’s important for OUR COMMUNITY to know that. Homeless, wheel chair bound, down and out, in recovery, not in recovery – rich, poor, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist – it doesn’t matter. Love knows none of those things, and neither does Amma.

Everyone’s welcome to get up on The Soapbox. Got issues? Something you want to get off your chest? Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Send your submissions to, subject line, The Soap Box.

Kate Marquis has lived in Manchester the past 16 years. She works downtown and volunteers in the community.
She’ll be volunteering as a greeter at Amma so come by and say “hi.”