12 Apr 2012

NZ devotees meet "hugging saint" in Melbourne

11:26 pm on 12 April 2012

New Zealanders are among the thousands of people gathering in Melbourne to meet a Hindu spiritual leader known as the "hugging saint".

Mata Amritanandamayi - known to her followers as Amma (which means "mother") - is known not only for her humanitarian work but also for hugging many of the people she meets.

It is estimated she has hugged more than 31 million people - up to 40,000 a day at times.

Amma will travel to Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast over the next two weeks after her current sessions at Melbourne's Sandown racecourse.

She will be hugging people for 20 hours a day in four-hour shifts, and, speaking through a translator, she says she never runs out of energy.

"I'm not like a battery that dies away after being used for some time. I'm eternally connected to the power source," Amma says.

Amma's followers sell CDs, DVDs, books and pamphlets, with the money going to her charity, Embracing The World, which has helped build homes for the homeless, medical clinics and orphanages.

Her most devoted followers dress in orange and describe themselves as disciples.

Devotees Siva and his wife Rajes travelled from New Zealand with their three children to be hugged by Amma.

"When I was just next to Amma I was feeling a lot of vibration, there was a lot of things that I wanted to ask," Siva says.

"Sometimes when we come here we want to say some things to Amma, we want to ask things to Amma but a lot of things just go blank - we already have an answer.

"And I think the last word that I uttered to her was: 'I always have your blessings, Amma'."

Rajes added: "She said 'I love you my child, I love you my child'."