I was sitting on the train coming back from Milan, after shooting the annual motorcycle fair, when a woman approached me asking for directions. "Are you also going to see Amma?" she asked me. I had no idea what she was talking about so, all excited, she quickly explained to me that Amma Mata Amritanandamayi, the world wide known Mahatma (or big soul) from India was in Italy for her European Embracing The World Tour.
I was way too tired to face another shooting session but when I arrived at the station the advertising signs picturing this incredibly friendly and smiley woman triggered my curiosity. I could not resist so I decided to make a quick visit to the event.
As soon as I entered the huge pavilion where the event was taking place I felt I did the right thing by going. The place was engulfed in an oddly serene atmosphere. Dozens of people of all sorts were scattered around the vast area, some young shoeless and hippiesh looking, others with disabilities or in a wheelchair, but mostly just regular common people patiently sitting on the chairs facing a stage. Not knowing what to expect, at first I didn't realize what they were all waiting for, but after a better look I saw that many people were queuing just below the stage, in front of them a woman dressed in white was hugging someone.
I decided to get closer and spent an hour or so photographing the event. I have to admit that the scene in front of my eyes was quite bizarre. One after another, Amma was hugging every single person in the pavilion, gently whispering something in their ears for a minute or two while rhythmically rocking back and forth. She was helped by a few assistants coordinating the queue of waiting people and recieving their offers.
I wanted to know more about Amma and her World Tour so I met with Michela Muratori, Amma's Italian Media Relations manager. Michela was very welcoming and chatty as she explained more about what Amma's goals are and gave me a lot of useful books and pamphlets to read.
Apparently in the past 30 years Amma has devoted hersef to the world and she has hugged a staggering 30 million people all over the planet, that is about a million people a year!!!
Hugging people is only a small part of what she does, Amma is in fact the leader of one of the biggest Indian humanitarian organizations. She won the Gandhi-King Award for Non-Violence and the James Parks Morton Interfaith Award and even spoke several times for the United Nations.
The message she wants to spread is quite simple and very inspiring:
"Everyone in the world should be able to sleep without fear, at least for one night.
I have to admit I'm generally very skeptical about this sort of thing and normally prefer to document events with an impartial eye. However, I have to say that I was very impressed by Amma's positive message. I came out of the pavilion thinking that whether or not one believes in it, in a world that seems to be lacking so much selflessness and morality, surely a hug can be no harm and maybe all we need is simply some love.
If you want to see more of my pictures of this event you can find them here.
If you want to know more about Amma you can visit her web-site.
Hi, my name is Stefano Pedroni. I'm a Milan based freelance photographer with a passion for travel reportages and photojournalism. Here is where I share my vision of our planet through my own work and that of other selected photographers.