This weekend I watched a documentary film about Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, the renowned hugging sage of India. Its title, Darshan – The Embrace refers to an event somewhat analogous to communion for Christians. Yet, instead of receiving bread or waivers from a minister at a quaint church, the attendants of Darshan receive a physical embrace from her holiness amid lively kirtan music in a packed convention center. A Darshan festival with ‘Amma,’ as she is frequently called (meaning mother), has been known to attract as many as 45 thousand guests at a time. These participants wait patiently for up to 21 hours to receive the direct embrace. Amma’s peaceful influence has been noticed throughout the world, including within the halls of the United Nations, where she was presented with the Gandhi-King award for non-violence in 2002.
The film, originally released back in 2005 in France, gave me a glimpse into a cultural phenomenon which I would have otherwise known little about. Speaking purely about the movie, its director and editors did a finely artistic job compiling scenes of Amma interacting with ordinary people amid exotic beauty and chaos alike. Several scenes are also included in which Amma professes intimate themes of Hindu spirituality amid a stunning backdrop. I found that these seemed to dissolve some of the characteristic objectivity of the documentary film medium. For example, in one instance, Amma expressed heartfelt concern for humanity in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and in verse made an impassioned speech advocating for world peace. Considering the recent terrorist attacks in France, Kenya and Nigeria, I admit, I was greatly affected by her monologue. It shows just how much concern Amma has for human beings throughout the world. I highly recommend watching Darshan for yourself, because it just may be the most memorable films you’ll see this year.