SINGAPORE - More than a thousand people streamed into the Sands Convention Centre on Monday (March 26) to meditate and be embraced by an Indian guru.
Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is a spiritual and humanitarian leader also known as Amma, which translates to "Mother". Singapore was the first country she came to when she began her international travels in 1987.
The three-day programme that began on Monday commemorates the 31st anniversary of that event.
Her last visit to Singapore was in 2017.
A highlight of Amma's ceremonies is the concluding darshan, in which she embraces each person who goes to see her.
She began the act as a young girl despite such contact being forbidden, especially with men. She has since hugged about 34 million people across the world, sometimes in marathon sessions that run for 20 hours, gaining the moniker of the "Hugging Saint".
At the Convention Centre, dressed in white robes and seated at the centre of the stage, she pulled kneeling visitors into her right shoulder, holding on for a minute or two at a time. Several walked away with tears in their eyes. The darshan, which began at about 1pm, could run past midnight. Tomorrow's programme begins at 10am.
Amma, who speaks at the United Nations and has received multiple awards for humanitarian and spiritual influence, is the founder of Embracing the World, a global network of charities in areas such as food, shelter, healthcare, education, livelihood and environmental sustainability.
Her devotees hail from all over the world, with some flying into Singapore just to attend her programme.
"For me she helps to add a whole different perspective on life," said Mr Thomas Becker, 57, a teacher who relocated from California 18 years ago to live in Asia and be closer to Amma. He recently ended a seven-week stay at Amma's ashram in Amritapuri, India, and will be returning to live and work in the United States.
Mr Becker added that if he was "lucky" he would see the guru another two times this year. "Always, to see Amma is just really a blessing, there's something much deeper happening in the inner experience, of just peace."
The guru is dedicated to her travels: after leaving Singapore, Amma will return to India before going on a tour to Japan, the US and Canada.
"In my view, life should be like the wind or like a river. It should caress everything. Life should be a flow - accepting and embracing everything. This perception of life inspired me to accept the invitation of devotees and travel to them."