India's 'Hugging Saint' Escapes Attack

Associated Press in New York Times/August 1, 2005

Cochin, India -- Three followers of an Indian religious leader known as the ''hugging saint'' overpowered an assailant who tried to attack her on Sunday during a prayer meeting in southern India, a state official said.

Amritanandamayi, who uses hugs as a gesture of blessing, watched as her followers scuffled with the attacker about 15 feet from where she was sitting in her headquarters in Quilon, a town 55 miles northwest of Trivandrum, the capital of southern Kerala state, district collector B. Srinivas said.

According to the Web site of Amritanandamayi's charitable trust, the assailant rushed the stage with a concealed knife. The followers suffered minor knife wounds.

Police arrested the unidentified attacker and took him to a hospital for a psychological examination, Srinivas said.

Amritanandamayi, 52, is known by followers as ''Amma,'' which means ''mother'' in several Indian languages. She has devotees throughout India and in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Her Amritanandamayi Charitable Trust has centers in 15 countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Britain. It builds homes, runs schools and provides medical care for poor people.

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