- Oldest ex-MLB player dies in Cuba, 2 days shy of 103rd birthday
- ‘Top Gun’ for drones: Squadrons of carrier-based killers have Navy’s approval
- Bill Clinton to endorse Charlie Rangel for re-election
- Pfc. Bradley Manning is now Pfc. Chelsea Manning: Court says so
- Secret base U.S. special forces used to train Libyans now under terrorist control: report
- 9th suspect in N.C. kidnapping turns self in to FBI
- L.A. sheriff admits to testing flyover spy program without notifying residents
- Foreign minister vows response if Russians are attacked in Ukraine
- Robert Griffin III to drive pace car before Richmond NASCAR race
- Material on Australian shore examined in jet hunt
India’s ‘hugging saint’ comforts with embrace
Thatched-roof food stands, jewelry vendors and a massage booth transformed an Alexandria hotel into a marketplace Friday morning, and the people browsing teas, fragrances and stained glass all waited patiently for one thing: a hug.
Hundreds of people filled the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center Hotel, braving a potentially full-day wait for a squeeze from a 4-foot-9-inch tall Indian woman called “the hugging saint.”
Known to her followers as Amma, Mata Amritanandamayi began hugging neighbors as a child and now takes her embraces on tour for more than half the year. What started in India as a spontaneous act to alleviate suffering has led to her current 10-stop trip across North America.
“It shifts something in your being. It gives you a different perspective on life,” said Steve Pohle. The 59-year-old made the three-hour trek from Newport News in order to receive his 12th hug from Amma.
But embracing people is only half of Amma’s strategy to ease hardships. She also oversees a global network of volunteer-run charities called Embracing the World that focus on causes ranging from fighting hunger to slum renovation.
The organization provided $46 million of aid in two years to victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Funding comes from donations and sales at events.
“The one-word solution to 80 percent of the problems in the world is ‘compassion,’ ” Amma said through a translator.
Local program coordinator Padmini Pooleri said she did not initially understand all the hype about “the hugging saint.”
“Over the years I’ve realized how much she’s done with the world,” Ms. Pooleri said. “Every penny goes to the poor people. Nobody gets paid. We are all volunteers.”
On Friday morning, hoards of people came out to meet the humanitarian herself. Ushered along by volunteers in color-coded scarves, visitors were systematically given a numbered token showing the time of their turn for a hug.
All in all, more than 300 individuals donated time to keep the event running smoothly.
Volunteer Rob Sidon said he expected between 7,000 and 10,000 people to receive hugs over the course of the weekend.
Some families elected to leave and return later in the day. Others browsed the displays of beads, magnets, postcards, hand bells, dolls, “Amma’s socks,” saris and photos for sale.
Many had slipped off sneakers and sandals, and posters at the edge of the room informed visitors that they “must wear shoes beyond this point.”
A sign in the middle of the ballroom displayed which group was up next, and volunteers in green scarves directed them to seats leading to the hug station.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
TWT Video Picks
Feds who send arms against ranch families betray American values
- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy hailed as patriot, ripped as lawless deadbeat
- CARSON: When government looks more like foe than friend
- Pentagon plans to replace flight crews with 'full-time' robots
- Georgia governor signs bill expanding gun rights
- America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds
- Texas is next! AG warns BLM wants 90,000 acres after Bundy ranch standoff
- Opposition rising to Colorado gun control laws
- Professor apologizes after blasting Republicans in class
- Harry Reid using tax dollars to fight Koch brothers, La. GOP chair charges
- Ukraine claims torture by pro-Russian forces on the heels of Biden's stern warning to Moscow
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.
Celebrity deaths in 2014