Sri Karunamayi is revered in India as an embodiment of Divine Motherly Love, due to the love and affection that she showers liberally on all people, animals, and even plants, the spiritual knowledge and guidance that she gives freely to all of humanity, and the humanitarian works that she has undertaken. “Amma” as she is affectionately called by her followers, is simply the Telugu word for “mother”- Telugu being Amma’s native language. Although it is not possible to convey the experience of being in Amma’s vibrant presence, we humbly attempt to provide a brief glimpse into her nature, through a brief biographical sketch and a description of Amma’s mission.
Amma at 7 Years
Born in 1958 in South India, Sri Karunamayi spent a childhood immersed in an atmosphere of prayer and worship created by her deeply spiritual parents. Both of her parents had received visions indicating that Sri Karunamayi was not an ordinary child, and her astrological chart indicated that she would dedicate her life to serving humanity.
Naturally inclined towards charity as a child, Sri Karunamayi, or “Amma,” would often give away food and clothes to whomever needed them. When a family servant contracted cholera, a deadly contagious disease, Amma tended closely to the servant without concern for her own safety. To the delight and amazement of Amma’s family, the servant survived the illness and recovered quickly, despite the doctor’s dire prognosis.
One time, during a religious festival, Amma came to know that some poor people who had come had not eaten in several days. Amma immediately brought and served them some food that had been prepared by her grandmother specifically to be offered to God during a special ceremony. When her grandmother saw what she had done, Amma told her, “Ammamma, today you have done a very good thing. This is how the food so nicely prepared by you has been accepted by the Lord in the form of these people.” Amma’s grandmother was moved by her granddaughter’s universal outlook, and quickly brought out the remainder of the food for the distribution to all who wanted it.
As a child, Amma enjoyed helping her mother by making flower garlands by hand for her mother’s daily practice of worship to Lord Rama. She also delighted in hearing Sanskrit prayers and verses sung by her father. Though she had never studied Sanskrit, she would often surprise her father with spontaneous insights into the inner spiritual meaning of the verses. When Amma’s parents invited learned scholars to their home to give teachings, these scholars were often shocked and amazed to hear the original thoughts that flowed spontaneously from Amma’s mouth. They had never heard of such a young girl discussing the spiritual essence of the Sanskrit prayers with such expertise.
Austerities in the Sacred Penusila Forest
As she grew into a young woman, Amma felt an inner urge to begin spending more and more time in the family worship room, immersed in prayer and meditation. As she was now a first-year college student, she was forced to make time for meditation by reducing the time she spent sleeping. As her meditations deepened and intensified, she also began reducing her intake of food. These meditation sessions grew in length until one day Amma locked herself inside a room of the house and remained there in meditation for a month.
Though her family members were perplexed, they did not dare to disturb her, having witnessed the profundity of her meditations before. When she finally emerged, she seemed like a different person to her family members. Though she still showed the same sweet affection to which they were accustomed, her demeanor now expressed a more impersonal, universal love. Determined to fulfill the sacred purpose of her life, Amma gently told her mother that it was time for her to go into seclusion in the sacred Penusila Forest, to meditate there in solitude. Always respectful of her daughter’s divine nature, and trusting completely in God, Amma’s mother did not try to stop her from going.
In the year 1980, at the tender age of 21, Amma left the comfort and security of her parents’ home and traveled by foot to the remote and sacred Penusila Forest, where a number of India’s ancient sages had meditated for many hundreds of years. There, she was free to live according to principles established by India’s ancient Vedic sages. Rising at 2:30 in the morning, Amma would bathe with cold water from a pure river. Wearing only a simple cotton sari, she would go to one of the forest’s many sacred groves and remain there, absorbed in meditation for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. Local villagers who spotted her sometimes mistook her for a statue, as they could not even detect the movement of breath in her perfectly still form. Some of the more mischievous ones would toss small pebbles on her, just to see if she was really alive or just a corpse! Others, feeling that only an incarnation of the Divine Mother could sit for so long in deep meditation, would leave small offerings of fruit before her. Whether she emerged from her meditations to find stones or fruit in front of her, Amma always maintained a state of perfect equanimity and gave her blessings to all, regardless of how they treated her.
Amma never felt that these meditations were done for her own sake, as she was following the example of India’s ancient Vedic sages, who meditated for hundreds of years in order to discover the best teachings for all of mankind. Through Amma’s austerities, she determined which of the Vedic teachings and practices would be of greatest benefit to people living in this difficult modern age. After performing such intense tapasya for over 10 years, Amma decided that it was time to share her knowledge with all those who thirsted for true spirituality, wherever they may live in the world.
Amma Emerges from the Forest
Emerging from her seclusion in the sacred Penusila Forest, Amma was invited by a follower to stay in Bangalore, where a simple building was constructed to house a temple as well as living quarters. She began giving public discourses on various aspects of Sanatana Dharma, India’s ancient spirituality, and conducting sacred ceremonies to promote world peace and universal well-being. At this time, Amma also began Her work on serving humanity in the eradication of poverty, providing free medical care & housing for the disadvantaged, stopping child labour through free schooling and mentorship programs, and supplying water treatment facilities to those impoverished communities that have been severely affected from toxic water resources. After performing such intense tapasya for over 10 years, those people who had heard of her forest meditations and wisdom, entreated Amma to move to a more urban area to share her knowledge with all those who thirsted for spirituality, wherever they may live in the world.
In 1995, Amma began reaching out to the world, beginning with the US, where She offers yearly public programs. During these programs Amma gives teachings and blessings, holds meditation retreats, and performs sacred fire ceremonies for the benefit of all of humankind & the world. During her visits to each city, countless followers come to express their worries and problems and to request blessings or guidance. And to this end, Amma uses Her own sari to wipe away the tears from Her children’s eyes as She comforts every follower with Divine Motherly Love. Amma often likes to say that Her only work in this world is to remove the suffering from the hearts of Her children. This she does through Her kind, loving words of spiritual guidance and encouragement, Her healing touch, and Her divine knowledge and insight. Today, Amma divides Her time between the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia and India, fulfilling Her life’s mission of providing comfort, solace, and spiritual guidance to all who come to Her.