Source: The Press Democrat, November 15, 2000
SAN RAFAEL, CALIFORNIA: In the Marin Civic Center exhibition hall in San Rafael, the seekers and devotees sat on the floor before Mata Amritanandamayi, or Ammachi, a Hindu spiritual leader and humanitarian from India, waiting for her hug of benevolence. The report in the local Press Democrat treated the Hindu leader with great respect. It went on to say that her followers believe her hugs relieve suffering. Ammachi, whose full name means Mother of Immortal Bliss, was born in South India in 1953. Hundreds gathered to receive a gentle embrace. Those who sought a hug obtained a special token with a number - one that would determine when they took their place before her. By 1 p.m. volunteers reported giving out 750 tokens. Many of the hugs lasted more than 30 seconds. Afterward Ammachi gave each person flower petals and a "Hershey's Kiss" piece of candy. Visitors could learn about her "Mother's Kitchen" program, serving vegetarian meals to the homeless in Oakland and eight other U.S. cities. Brochures told of the hospital, orphanage and an engineering college she operates in India. Colette van Praag of Glen Ellen described her previous hugs with the spiritual leader as "a melting of the heart." Ammachi was a featured speaker at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders held at the UN in August. She was one of only a handful of women religious leaders at the male-dominated event. In Zurich, a reporter once asked who it was that hugged her. "The entire creation hugs me," Ammachi replied.