A Hindu religious leader known for travelling the world and hugging people has pledged one billion rupees ($28 million) to help those facing the aftermath of southern Asia’s devastating earthquake and tsunamis.
Mata Amritanandamayi, a maternal figure who uses hugs as a gesture of blessing and is often called “the hugging saint”, has devotees throughout India and in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Followers say she has given 30 million hugs in 30 years. She travels much of the year, meeting people from other cultures and religions.
The contribution she pledged on Monday is more than that promised by many international aid groups and business leaders to those whose lives were shattered by the December 26 disaster, which has left a death toll expected to exceed 150,000.
“Amma is moved and anguished by the colossal tragedy,” said Amrita Swaroopananda, a spokesman for Amritanandamayi – known by her followers as “Amma”, which means “mother” in many Indian languages.
The Amritanandamayi Charitable Trust has centres in 15 countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Britain. It builds homes, runs schools and provides medical care for poor people in India.
The aid will be used to build homes for tsunami victims in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. The December 26 disaster left more than 9000 people dead in India.
Amritanandamayi’s native village of Parayakadavu in Kerala was also hit.