On this day mass recital of 700 verses of Shrimad-bhagwadgeeta goes on for the whole day.
In Malaysia, Gita Jayanti is celebrated annually with the cooperation of different Hindu organizations in order to create self realization among all Hindus. In Singapore, Gita Jayanti celebrations are held each year at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road.
2. P.P. SARSANGHCHALAKJI SPEAKS: Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat addressed a mammoth gathering of the citizens of Delhi on 29th October 2009. Bhagwatji had invited questions through email etc. on expectation of masses from Sangh and his address gave replies to those questions.
He started with the need for protecting Bharatiya territory from Chinese incursions. "China engages us and we should engage China in dialogue. But we should pay attention when China encircles us. It swallowed Tibet. We were not alert then. After November 2, Maoists will become active in Nepal. And when Maoists become active there, whose influence will increase -- Bharat or China?" he asked.
Bhagwat said if Bharat did not pay heed to these developments then it would face challenges from China in Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, adding that injustice has been done to Tibet and Bharat should stand behind it.
Bhagwatji said Bharat had been fighting Jehadi terrorism for long. "We have been fighting them for long. They did not perish but neither did we," he said.
About the recent cases of terrorism where some Hindu right-wing organisations were allegedly involved, Bhagwat said, "Some people are trying to find Hindu terrorism but it does not exist. Even Naxalism is branded as Hindu terrorism by those who make a living by profits from such talk."
Shri Bhagwat emphasised that there was a need to change policies with time. "When RSS was formed (in 1925) there was no Pakistan, no Jehadi terrorism, no concern for protecting our borders as we were not independent," he said.
Shri Bhagwat said Bharat's prestige enhanced when it won two wars against Pakistan and also after the two atomic tests.
Bhagwatji also said foreign countries were building pressure on Bharat through dialogue.
"There is a lot of activity in Kashmir these days but what will be the outcome? There is no problem in talking but we should understand what is on their (Pakistan's) mind. Friendship should not be extended naively but with proper understanding," he said.
He further said, “Politics is not something that can unite society. We do not need to hide behind a political organisation. But certainly the society expects Sajjan Shakti to bring political parties and its leaders back on the track.”
At the end Sarsanghchalakji invited one and all to join the Sangh so that he could have the ‘first hand experience’ of what the outfit was all about. He admitted there were lots of misconceptions about the Sangh and that could be done away with only when people would join the organisation.
A veterinary doctor by education, Bhagwatji appreciated the idea of Vishwa Mangal Gau GramYatra and emphatically said that the protection and gainful deployment of Bharatiya cow and her progeny were the keys to rural development in Bharat.
3. PM EXTENDS ‘HAND OF FRIENDSHIP’ TO PAK: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on October 28 asked Pakistan to accept Bharat’s hand of friendship and also sent signals that the Centre was committed to unconditional dialogue with all Kashmiri groups to resolve the state’s problems. The PM said the government would engage only with those who give up violence.
The PM’s offer for unconditional talks comes amid calls from the Kashmiri political leadership for resuming negotiations with separatists at a time when militant violence in the state is at an all-time low.
The PM said the two countries had the most productive discussions ever between 2004 and 2007, when violence began to decline. He said unprecedented resources were committed for reconstruction of the state, but the benefits were slow in trickling down.
4. OBAMA SEEKS LIGHT AND KNOWLEDGE FROM DIWALI: In an expansive gesture to Bharatiyas worldwide as much as to showcase his – and America’s -- multi-cultural affections, US President Barack Obama on October 14 lit a ceremonial Diwali lamp at the White House to ''symbolize victory of light over darkness” and became the first US President to personally grace the ceremony.
''This coming Saturday, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, here in America and around the world, will celebrate this holiday by lighting Diyas, or lamps, which symbolize the victory of light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance,'' Obama said on the occasion, adding, ''And while this is a time of rejoicing, it's also a time for reflection, when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need.''
5. HISTORIC DIWALI CELEBRATIONS AT 10 DOWNING STREET: Prime Minister Gordon Brown celebrated the Hindu festival of Diwali by lighting the ceremonial lamp at 10 Downing Street amid chanting of Vedic prayers for world peace, thus becoming the first British PM to personally host the Diwali celebration.
Bharatiya High Commissioner, H.E. Nalin Surie, Baroness Vadera, and other eminent members of the Bharatiya community had gathered in the Pillared Room of 10 Downing Street along with the hosts for the event, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP and his wife, Sarah Brown.
The Prime Minister and his wife were garlanded by volunteers of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha and also presented with an intricate model of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London.
In his short, informal address, the Prime Minister lauded the Hindu spirit of respect and tolerance. He highlighted Diwali as a festival that brings hope and strengthens family and community values, and spoke gratefully of the contribution of British Hindus to the nation.
6. DIWALI IN MELBOURNE: More than 50,000 people in Melbourne, Australia, gathered at the Federation Square to celebrate Diwali on October 9. The celebration was also attended by the Premier of Victoria, John Brumby.
Mr Brumby said Diwali was an important occasion for the Bharatiya community and a great example of how Victoria’s multicultural communities come together to share their cultures.
“In Victoria we come from more than 200 countries of origin, speak more than 230 languages and dialects and follow more than 120 faiths - this enhances our reputation as a harmonious, vibrant and cohesive community,” Mr Brumby said.
7. NAVY TO GET DEDICATED COMMUNICATION SATELLITE NEXT YEAR: Navy will get a dedicated satellite for making its communication robust and secure and also to propel its network-centric operations and connectivity at sea, Defence Minister A K Antony has said.
At present, Navy depends on foreign satellites for providing data. Once the geo-stationary satellite is put in orbit by ISRO, it will provide a secure, independent data link and network-centric operations capability for the Navy.
Under the Defence Ministry plans for space-based military assets, Navy would get its dedicated communication satellite first, followed by the Air Force and the Army.
8. ISRO & ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY TO SET UP CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT STUDY CENTRE: The Union Minister of State for Forests and Environment Jairam Ramesh disclosed on October 18 that union forest and environment ministry will join hands with the Indian Space Research Organisation for setting up of a National Institute in Bengaluru for studying climate and environment.
The study centre, National Institute for Climate and Environmental Sciences, will enable the scientists for conducting long-term research projects on the effect of climate on the economic aspects.
The institute, to be commissioned by this year-end, will monitor and measure the impact of global warming on the Himalayan glaciers, which have been retreating with their snow cover dwindling.
9. WHY KNOT? PAKISTANI HINDUS GET RIGHT TO STAY LONGER IN BHARAT: Minority Hindus of Pakistan have won a major battle as the External Affairs Ministry, in consultation with the Home Ministry, has agreed to give them a six-month visa to visit Bharat, instead of the present limit of 30 days.
Over 10 lakh Sodha Rajputs are living in Umarkot, just across the international border from Barmer. Under Hindu religion, marriages within the same gotra are not allowed. So these Sodha Rajputs look beyond the borders to wed their sons and daughters among the Rajputs of Rajasthan, belonging to other gotras of the community.
In the past, owing to strict visa conditions, newly-weds could not stay in Bharat beyond a 30-day limit. Now under the relaxed rules, they can prolong their stay in the country.
10. RSS TO RELIEF FROM FLOODS: Flood in two states, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh has been described as one of the worst natural calamities in decades. The total losses of homes, farms and infrastructure have been estimated to be a whooping 2,200 crore rupees. The devastation of the floods has left 63 dead in Andhra Pradesh and about 16 lakh people in 87 mandals, from 565 villages in 5 districts were affected. Whereas in Karnataka, 1467 villages in 6 districts were affected, killing 175 people, and leaving lakhs of people homeless.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, along with its sister organizations like Seva Bharati, VHP, ABVP, etc has jumped into the flood relief. Elite class of the society including IT professionals, also made their generous contribution to the flood relief.
11. HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN SRI LANKA –2009: On October 11, 2009, representatives of British Hindu organisations met at Ilford Hindu Centre with the representatives of Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) based in Holland and with the representatives of the Tamil community domiciled in Britain to discuss the humanitarian crisis facing the Tamil Hindu community in Sri Lanka who, in the aftermath of the latest fighting between the Sri Lankan forces and Tamil Tigers, have become ‘Internally Displaced People’(IDP).
The Hindu Community resolved to organize prayers for the welfare of the Tamil IDPs of Sri Lanka, in all Hindu mandirs and community centres on 1st November 2009, and to hold a candle-lit vigil in front of the British Parliament on December 9, 2009, in order to draw the attention of the politicians, and the members of public, about the sufferings of the Tamil IDPs facing in Sri Lanka.
12. BHARAT TO GIVE MORE FUNDS FOR LANKAN TAMILS: Home Minister P Chidambaram has said that Bharat will, if required, allocate more funds to Sri Lanka for the rehabilitation of over 2.5 lakh Tamils displaced by the war against LTTE.
Chidambaram made the announcement after a brief meeting with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on October 18. He said that the discussion centred on the visit of a delegation of MPs to Sri Lanka last week.
13. US ALLOWS SIKH SECURITY OFFICERS TO WEAR TURBAN AND BEARD: In what is seen as a landmark civil rights victory for the Sikh community, the US government has allowed Sikhs to serve as federal security officers while keeping their turbans and beards.
The reversal of a ban comes after a discrimination case filed by a Sikh security officer who was told that he could not keep his turban and beard on the job, Sikh Coalition.
14. BHARATIYA-ORIGIN WOMAN TO SKYDIVE FROM 14,000 FT AGAINST RACISM: A 22-year-old wheelchair-bound daredevil Bharatiya-origin woman, suffering from cerebral-palsy plans to skydive from more than 14,000 feet to raise funds to fight against 'racism and fascism' in the UK.
Rupy Kaur, a disability activist who takes her inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, will undertake the feat on December 6 in Lake District, a picturesque region in northwest of England. She comes from a family of fighters of justice.
15. 15-YEAR-OLD’S IDEA CLICKS WITH STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Think out of the box. It pays. This is what 15-year-old Sarojini Mahajan is happy to realise after her idea of using human pulse to charge a cellphone was picked up by Stanford University on October 14. A class IX student of St Mark’s Senior Secondary Public School, Meera Bagh, Sarojini had sent her idea as an entry to IGNITE 2009 — a nationwide contest of innovative ideas. Though she won a consolation prize in the contest, Stanford University will now work on her idea.
16. CHINA PROJECTS KASHMIR AS A SEPARATE COUNTRY: Besides issuing separate visas to Bharatiya passport holders from Jammu and Kashmir, China is also projecting the disputed territory as an independent country in other ways.
Visitors to Tibet, especially journalists invited by the Chinese government, are given handouts where Kashmir is indicated as a country separate from Bharat.
Media kits providing "basic information" about Tibet - which China attacked and annexed in the 1950s - says Tibet "borders with Bharat, Nepal, Myanmar and Kashmir area".
Except the "Kashmir area", the other three are sovereign countries. Maps too, available in China, Myanmar and Nepal and being sold in Bharat, show a Bharat denuded of Kashmir.
17. RADHAKRISHNAN NEW ISRO CHIEF: K Radhakrishnan, director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, was on October 24 named the next chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
One of the key persons behind the Chandrayaan-1 mission, the senior ISRO scientist says his immediate priority will be the successful flight of GSLV-D3 in December 2009 with an Indian cryogenic stage.
18. HUNDREDS OF ADIVASIS ‘RECONVERTED’ AS HINDUS: Hundreds of Adivasis from villages in Maharashtra’s Thane district were “reconverted” to Hinduism at a “purification” ceremony in Thane (west) on October 26.
“Today 795 Adivasi (tribal) families were reconverted to Hinduism. We are not having a religious conversion here — it’s a process of purification,” said Jagatguru Swami Narendracharya Maharaj.
Narendracharya said he was converting people who had originally been Hindus.
He holds such ceremonies every year. Last year, it was held in Kalwa in Thane. He claims to have reconverted more than 95,000 adivasis to Hinduism.
19. MUCH IN A NAME: NOW ITS ‘ODISHA’: Seventy-three years after British misspelled ‘Orissa’, the eastern state will get its correct name: ‘Odisha’.
On October 22, the cabinet approved the state government’s proposal to rename ‘Orissa’ ‘Odisha’ and the ‘Oriya’ language ‘Odia’.
Last year, the Orissa cabinet had asked the central government to amend Schedule 1 of the Constitution that lists state names.
20. STEP BACK TO SEE HOW BHARAT WAS A STEP AHEAD: Where did the first smelting of zinc start at an industrial scale?
Who were the pioneers of town planning complete with residential complexes and wastewater system?
Where will you find rock cut structures with perfect geometrical proportions?
Who gave `zero' to the world?
The answer to all those questions is Bharat.
A new gallery at the National Science Centre in Delhi showcases these achievements through an exhibition called `Our Science and Technology Heritage'.
21. QUEEN FISHES OUT FORGOTTEN BHARAT-MADE DRESS: The British Queen wore a dress fit for royals at her state banquet for Rashtrapati Pratibha Patil on October 28 night — after finding the Bharatiya fabric lying unused in a cupboard for decades.
Elizabeth II’s stunning pale gold lame dress made its debut at the banquet after being delivered to her in the morning by her dresser.
The 83-year-old Queen had the fabric turned into a glamorous dress by her personal dresser Angela Kelly. It turned out to be the most glamorous outfit of the evening.
22. INDIAN DOCTOR WORLD'S FIRST PLASTIC SURGEON?: A Bharatiya doctor working in 600 BC might have been the world's first plastic surgeon, according to a new exhibition that challenges Western domination of the history of science and technology.
The Science and Technology Heritage Exhibition opened last week at New Delhi's National Science Centre, showcasing the advances and discoveries with which the country says it should be credited.
Bharat spent nearly two centuries under British rule before gaining independence in 1947. The plastic surgery claim relates to Susruta, who lived 150 years before Greece's "father of medicine," Hippocrates, and who lends his name to a number of modern Bharatiya clinics. Iyer, citing official records, said the surgeon pioneered nose reconstruction in northern Bharat, which entailed removing skin from the forehead of a person to re-build the facial feature. Criminals were often punished by having their noses cut off during his time.
He is credited with authoring the Susruta Samhita, a medical text which details 650 types of drugs, 300 operations, 42 surgical procedures and 121 types of instruments, according to available records.
23. DOUBLE-DECKER BUSES NEXT YEAR: By next year, Delhi can expect to have its own hop-on-hop-off heritage tourist bus service modeled on the lines of the London counterpart. Delhi government has proposed to introduce specially designed double-decker buses, which will be run on tailor-made routes taking tourists not just to monuments but also museums, shopping venues, theatre and even typical Bharatiya weddings for the foreign clientele.
The buses will be luxury coaches with large window panes to enable a clear view of the city from every seat. Every bus will have a guide on board to keep the visitors updated on the sites as they pass by.
24. NEW SHAKHA STARTED IN UGANDA: Zinza in Uganda is buzzing with Swayamsevaks doing different types of drill and intellectual dialogues. Shakhas are going to start in Kampala and Kakira in the African Continent. BSS, Kenya will organize a camp in Nairobi in December.
25. EKAL VOLUNTEERS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: More than 12,000 volunteers of EKAL, from the villages, towns and cities of 22 Pradeshas and even from abroad are assembling in the Swarna Jayanti Park, Rohini in New Delhi on 29th, 30th and 31st October and 1st November..
On 29th October Baba Ramdev inaugurated an exhibition showcasing various programmes of Ekal work in different parts of the country. At one place one will be able to see a complete Bharat. On 30th October, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwatji inaugurated the three day Ekal International Conference. Shri Ashok Singhal was also present. On Nov 1, Sadhvi Rithambraji (Didi maa) will grace the closing session.
Volunteers and Ekal supervisors who oversee the working of 28,000 schools have come and are talking about their experiences in the villages they operate in. They give examples of the transformation that has happened in community they serve and they also talk about the difficulties being faced. This gives an opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved so far and also to plan activities for the coming future.
Recognition is given to persons who have succeeded in achieving the targets set for them. These recognitions are for the activities in the field of Basic Education, Health Care Education, Development Education, Empowerment, Education and for achieving Self Sufficiency.
In the meet total 14 sessions are planned to discuss all the aspects of Ekal Vidyalaya Movement.
26. SHRI VISHWA NIKETAN: Visitors: Shri Ramesh Shah & Shri Ramdev Rai Sood from USA. Pravas: Shri Ravi Kumar, Sah-samyojak, Vishwa Vibhag is touring Singapore and Hong Kong. Shri Dattatreya Hosbale, Sah-sarkaryavah, RSS and Susri Alkatai Inamdar, Bauddhik Pramukh, Sevika Samiti will tour USA in this month.
27. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Politics is not something that can unite society. We do not need to hide behind a political organisation. But certainly the society expects Sajjan Shakti to bring political parties and its leaders back on the track. –Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwatji at a seminar at New Delhi on October 29, 2009.
JAI SHREE RAM
INDIA’S HONOURED GUESTIn clearing the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh on November 8, the Government of India has acted correctly and wisely. The spiritual leader is scheduled to travel to the Tawang Monastery — one of the most revered seats of Tibetan Buddhism — and also inaugurate a super-speciality hospital that will serve the people of India’s easternmost State. In recent weeks the Dalai Lama’s visit had become the subject of great controversy, with the Chinese authorities resorting to wild and objectionable rhetoric, making menacing noises and insisting that almost all of Arunachal Pradesh was actually China’s territory by virtue of being part of the so-called ‘Southern Tibet’. Having first annexed Tibet and offered only oppression and dubious historical evidence as clinching arguments, the Communist autocracy in China now says it also wants Arunachal Pradesh as a culturally contiguous region of a sacred habitat it is in occupation of. This is no ordinary millenarian fantasy and sits uneasily with the idea of a rational and coldly calculating regime in Beijing. It is obvious that China sees Arunachal Pradesh as an issue it can use to put India in its place. By claiming Tawang, allegedly on behalf of the people of Tibet, it is actually engaged in a game of one-upmanship with the Dalai Lama. The respected religious leader is absolutely comfortable with Tawang being a repository of Buddhist faith, the birthplace of a previous Dalai Lama, and yet part of a State that is integral to the Union of India. He has refused to entertain the idea that Arunachal Pradesh is somehow disputed territory. His very presence in the State will make Chinese claims on Tawang appear hollow, just as his credibility and Gandhian stature render Beijing’s half-century occupation of Lhasa almost immoral. Obviously, despite China’s prodigious economic achievements and statistical tabulation of its “composite national power”, the fact is Beijing is deeply insecure and has monumental chips on its shoulder.
Arunachal awaits Dalai Lama’s visit
Arunachal awaits Dalai Lama’s visit
Dealing with such a neighbour calls for not just diplomatic skills but profound mastery of a number of other fields, from chess to clinical psychology. It is doubtful whether India has time for all of this. It can’t spend its hours attempting to psychoanalyse the rulers of China, What it can and must do, however, is to put its foot down when Indian identity itself is questioned and even threatened. The Dalai Lama has his individual plans for the resolution of the Chinese-Tibetan question. India has its own perceptions as well, and these may or may not match those of the world’s best known Buddhist monk. However, two things are clear. First, the Dalai Lama is an honoured guest of India and completely free to go to any part of the country that he feels like. Second, India cannot be bullied into taking a position on the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan political struggle merely because a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry gets carried away with obnoxious verbosity.
That is why the Union Government’s decision to clarify matters and give permission to the Dalai Lama — being a foreign citizen and a diplomatic personage he needs official clearance — to visit a cherished and crucial border State is just so welcome. The Chinese are free to launch into another war or words, try and smuggle in more border patrols, buy paint for inscribing more boulders. India shall not be moved. -- Editorial, The Pioneer, October 28, 2009
WHAT IS EKAL?The Ekal Vidyalaya Movement started in the year 1988 from the state of Jharkhand, the erstwhile state of Bihar. Today Ekal has its presence in 27110 villages in 22 states of the country. In these schools, 7,78,965 students are getting their education free.
These schools function on single teacher non-formal teaching system. They provide education upto class III after which many of them go for further formal education in nearby schools. On an average thirty students are enrolled in a school.
The Ekal schools are run for three hours every day and the timing is decided by the local village committee convenient to the students and the teacher. The reason for this is that the students help their parents at home or in the fields or in grazing cattle. Sometimes it is also the village teacher who has other chores to do in the day time.
The teacher is from the village itself. This ensures that the classes are held regularly and there is mutual involvement of the teacher and the student. There is extensive and continuous training of the teacher to maintain efficiency.
Besides this, Ekal has also taken the responsibility of imparting Health Care Education, Development Education and Empowerment Education to the village folk. All this to realize the dream of making a ‘sikshit, swastha and samarth Bharat’ (literate, healthy and empowered Bharat).
Ekal has succeeded to put the rural folk in constructive activities, check on liquor consumption, create interest in education, prevent migration from villages, establish harmonious atmosphere in the villages etc. Recently in the naxal affected state of Chhattisgarh the security personnel also followed it at a remote village Khetarpal in district of Bastar, 186 kilometeres from the state capital Raipur. Ekal volunteers were on a routine ‘Van Yatra’ to an Ekal school. In the village the volunteers did their routine activities of games, teaching and appreciating the tribal for their work etc. This went on for about four hours and the security men were witness to all these things. Later the Commandant called Ekal’s chief and appreciated what was being done saying that this was the right way to overcome the problem of terrorism in the region.
Ekal schools are being run in the most difficult areas including North East, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir etc. The operation of Ekal system is being conducted in a very professional manner with supervision at different levels. The training programmes, conducted by experts in their areas, are its regular feature.
The complete funding for the programme is done with the help and cooperation of the society. Philanthropists at home and abroad are eager to support voluntary work for the upliftment of the needy and make India prosper. It is a very cost effective programme where one has to contribute just Rs 16,000/- to run Ekal activities in one village for a full year. The administrative cost is kept to a bear minimum which is below ten percent.
To facilitate city folk to experience what Ekal is doing in ‘Van Yatras’ or visits to schools are often organized to provide first hand information about transformation that has taken place in the lives of rural folk.
MEET THE HUGGING SAINT WHO HAS CUDDLED 20 MILLION PEOPLEBy 10.30am, a long queue is stretching at Alexandra Palace. Families in robes, men in suits, the elderly in wheelchairs and women with buggies are all waiting for Amma, The Hugging Saint.
Born to a humble fishing family in Kerala, Bharat, Her Holiness Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi has been hugging people - sometimes thousands a day - for 41 of her 56 years. She cuddles in countries across the world, often into the early hours of the morning, and is said to have hugged 20 million people.
"I've been to see Amma every year since 2000," says Janet Lewis, 50, who has brought her two-year-old granddaughter Madison 98 miles from Loughborough for a hug. "I come for the love and the peace and the joy."
Inside, the rose pink walls of North London's Ally Pally and the strong scent of incense give an air of Indian ashram. The last time I was here I saw Arctic Monkeys, when lads were chucking pints of lager in the air.
The hugs are regulated by a system of tokens, similar to a supermarket deli. Ahead of us for hugging are Emily Naumovic, a 35-year-old New Yorker who lives in London, and her English friend Carolyn Payne, 37.
After her hug, Emily - like many - finds herself moved to tears. She says she has come because she is pregnant and homesick.
She says: "I'm shocked I'm crying. It wasn't what I was expecting. But I'm glad I came."
Fred Cook, 38, an engraver from Carmarthenshire here with his family, is attracted more by what Amma does for the poor. "She just does what she says on the tin," he says.
On its website, Amma's NGO Embracing The World says it runs a 1,300-bed hospital, gives scholarships to 100,000 of India's poorest kids, supports 500 orphans in Kerala and 100 in Nairobi, Kenya, has built 40,000 homes for the homeless, feeds two million people in Bharat and 40 cities in the States and has planted over a million trees worldwide.
The charity also responds to disasters and donated £28 million to tsunami victims alone. The money comes in donations and from the sale of Amma tour merchandise.
Today the Divine Mother has agreed to an interview and I am brought to the front. Amma sits on a platform of silk and petals, surrounded by offerings. Raised only inches higher than her followers and in a white robe, she is the picture of humility, despite being one of the most powerful women in the world.
Amma grew up in one of Bharat's lowest castes and was forced to leave school at nine to support her family. Today she is at the heart of a huge charity empire, the winner of multiple peace and human rights prizes and is a UN advisor.
The swami, or chief disciple, translates my questions, and Amma answers above the heads of those she hugs with an infectious smile and an unflinching gaze.
She replies in her native language Malayalam, in a series of metaphors.
"We need to see a frog as a frog and an elephant as an elephant," she says. "We also need to see others as they are. We use cow manure to grow roses. The manure disappears and the roses bloom. So negativities may happen, people may criticise you but, if you have the right heart, you will blossom."
Her vital lesson for the world today, she explains, is compassion. "Imagine you have only a single-watt bulb - it will not give you enough light," she says. "But with many bulbs there will be light, love and understanding."
When Amma was a child, her hugs got her into trouble. It wasn't appropriate for a girl to be hugging older men or people of a different caste. Her brother was so filled with shame he tried to stab her to death.
But, she says: "In olden times they threw stones at me, now they strew flowers. I see both as the same." I also ask about accusations from ex-devotees that her ashram - which began in the cowshed next to her home and is now home to 3,000 people in 18-storey residences - is run like a cult.
"My path is the path of love - if others see it as a cult I've no comment," Amma says. "People come of all religions and faiths. If they seek a Christian mantra, or a Hindu mantra, I give them one. I don't believe anyone can create a new religion - Truth has already spoken." Her followers appear to be a mix of hippy types and people who've found themselves on a gap year in Bharat, plus housewives and plumbers and teachers. But the room of devotees inside Alexandra Palace is only the tip of the iceberg. Behind the scenes are around 200 volunteers, who give up two months of every year to support her during her 11-country European tour. Around 30 have travelled from the ashram in Kerala - full-time disciples, who wear the white robes, must be celibate and fully dedicated to the Amma way of life.
Down in the kitchens are the most trusted of Amma's disciples. "We are none of us cooks," says Paul Sharma, 71, who runs the kitchen after a background in retail factory work in Northern Ireland. "Paul here is a 747 pilot. Alka is a consultant radiologist."
They provide thousands of meals a day from largely donated ingredients, with unofficial sponsors such as Riverford Organics, One Water and, more surprisingly, Starbucks.
Alka Thakran, 44, has been following Amma since 1992 and gives up seven weeks of her life every year to work in the touring kitchens. "Amma teaches us not to talk, but to do," she says. She pays up to $2,000 a day for a replacement to do her radiology job in Sacramento, California.
"I say to her, why not just donate the money and carry on working?" says Paul Parks, the pilot. "But she says the work here is priceless."
Finally, I find myself kneeling in front of Amma, being pushed none too gently by the robed assistants who move in and remove the huggees.
The hug itself is warm and firm, wrapped up in the bosom of the living saint, with back-stroking, kissing and a mantra whispered in the ear.
It is comforting, if a little restricting, and a very peaceful place to be. -- DAILY MIRROR – 23 Oct 2009.